CHAPTER X LUKE
A Chronicle Begins
I LUKE, DEACON for this Christian assembly, begin this confidential Chronicle of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and all Syria,
Initial Notes, AD 117, later notes as invited, AD 128, u.c. (Roman years) 781, 792
I am a small man and pudgy, even my wife says I’m homely. Maybe it’s particularly my wife who says that, since she knows me best. My black hair, grey tinged now, is skimpy. I’m dark skinned, even for a Syrian. Brown eyes of course, a pocked face, a few teeth missing. I am a Deacon, which as jobs go in the big world, is unimportant. I am underpaid and still not worth it. Please, do not expect too much of me. I write as best I can
During this world but anticipating soon the end of that Princely Dominion was once pir Bishop called Nourani, in his own tongue his name was, “fire”. Those Roman and others came to know him as Ignatius, also the Latin word, “fire”. He sought to quell the flames broiling mankind through making unity in this church he called universal, this community of folk knowing Jesus, now named the Christ. their Lord eternal. Nourani said of Jesus he knew him personally within his heart. Nourani’s heart was good but even so, not easy to know. Lucky we any of us are to know what lies within a man’s heart when we have only his words to tell us. Nourani walked with goodness, yet I observed not all was well within him. Even a good heart can be beset with troubles.
So then with Nourani, the fire, a leader in one among the many sects, noisy or quiet depending on their bent, of those who came in this city to be called Christians, and in that call, came to denounce some of their own ancestry who had been born Jews, whereas other marked themselves not for what they had been born as Greek or Syrian, but as though they were a new people, born, they said by baptism. That so, they must apportion their loyalties between emperors, Trajan earlier and now Hadrian and the once man Jesus, who was the teacher, a rabbi who was crucified. With that event, lowly in most eyes, Christians came to say he was raised, resurrected; leading a way to paradise that all others might follow. He was believed powerful enough to guarantee his words, and so he was, some say, a god come to earth, who spoke among men of righteous ways and the loving God who required them. Having spoken, by his own miraculous choice, allowing a show of Roman and Jewish savagery, he soared home to the sky and beyond, from there to watch as a shepherd does, mindful of the welfare of his flock. So some in this congregation believe
Others, also preaching and converting, yet also often failing to convert, dissent, some noisily, some quietly. They have been told that the Jesus sent by the one true God was being Himself traveling, Jesus then deserving likewise to be called “God” . There are mysteries in it, how this God who sent himself to be within Jesus took on not only the look of a man but man’s being as well. No show in it then when the man-God was crucified, for his anguish was real and done for us as sacrifice for mankind’s boorish sins. Even now, given a few simple texts, the implications of this story ramify well beyond my own understanding but to accept that there is godly good guidance and more hope for us, here and beyond, than before. Even so, doubters who know this life worry about a god who begets and is daily indifferent to the pain of his begotten, reassuring stories or no. A flock of sheep which must protect itself is ill-guarded, nor does the wolf pause outside the fold because of the stories being told within. This Fire, Nourani, preaches intensely with such intensity that he knows, that the heat of his knowing near burns us. That itself is a persuasive miracle, as a bishop should be.
With the preaching Nourani, some were taught and many have come by idea’s contagion, to believe death itself was conquered and so, if a child is favored through his own faith, love, charity so too the child, any of us, will conquer death. That is indeed a gift as well as a teaching of the right way. Some of this the Hebrews knew, but not all, so that the story, news, newly brought did not include the Jews unless they changed to Jesus way. Most Jews, enjoying an ancient and demanding faith, and recently suffering greatly from the Romans for their rebellious passion, would not, have not changed. They will not then continue as the Christian God’s chosen people and may, or may not for I am no leader who can know these things, enjoy His love and His heaven. The Jews I meet are not worried. They say they have been the Chosen for thousands of years. You can see causes of bitterness here that such excluding, recruiting, promising teachings might bring, as well as confusion in uneducated men like me.
Life assured forever in heaven is a heady belief, one not altogether unknown among other peoples, whether Greek or Jew or pagan nor Oriental East As promise it comes together here in a new way, showing a new and much better life now and for as long as eternity might ever be. So Ignatius told them, and before him so masters Peter and Paul who were apostles to Jesus also told of wonders to be remembered by sons of fathers who listened then. Some heard the apostles, who abided here when they spoke in that holy grotto on Mount Sylpius, or at other times in the first house, called a synagogue by Jews fled here in their Diaspora. Later the same meeting house came to be called an assembly, other terms came with time and other tongues. Not many fathers of fathers heard the masters Peter and Paul, whereas now there are ever more sons and daughters come together.. Know that then as now, there was not one voice, not even the masters’, for Peter differed with Paul, and Paul, feeling not properly appreciated or heard, left Antioch. The stories say Peter and Paul met again in Rome then to meet executioners. Did they die in greater harmony than when here? I wonder.
I live near and serve this assembly. There is one who is daughter of a daughter of a man who listened to Paul and Peter, so I am able to tell a memory carried over time by caring kinsman’s’ tongues. I tell it, for if it is our history, and in it a warning. The tale is an unhappy thing foreign to the love we all seek to be. Should such events occur again, the blood blemishes are our own. The Bishop referred often to factions within us, disputes angry and righteous. Some blame these on Satan, but to blame Satan for what man plot and do out of their own evil, is wrong. To blame Satan for what is vile within the church is to grant him powers to penetrate sanctuaries, walk the gardens of God’s house, which powers he is denied. The terrible thing is when men do evil in good and justifying conscience. It is not the play the Devil has written,, but the laughter as he watches is his. In this very room where now I write, I have heard such laughter. It is a shivering thing.
The tale told by the woman whose generations spoke of it, it was the monster Nero’s time, is that the followers of Peter and Paul were in such dispute, it was over circumcision and other matters of Jewish law, that some in each party denounced the other’s master to the Roman’s. That not enough, they testified to untruths out of envy and jealous zeal. Those are Tacitus’ words on it. Likewise the younger Pliny, his text was put in my hands as warning, wrote of secret Christian witnesses and spies in the pay of Roman investigators. Hereabout is was said Jewish Christian missionaries were particularly pleased to be in the pay of Rome, for as we see today they are not an easily changing lot. Jesus was their Jew they say, a rabbi who brought good news, but was misheard as criticizing the old law.
These were not uncommon horrors in the time of Nero, for he laughed in unison with the Devil as he burned Christians soaked in oil then impaled and lit so they served as torches on the streets of Rome. I am sure the Devil had his own box next to the Emperor in the Coliseum so they could hear each other cheering as wild beasts savaged and fed on our gentle martyrs. And so, I ask, how was it that I myself heard the shivering laughter, as from the street, as we spoke here of Ignatius death, for indeed the Emperor Trajan is known as kind, modest, no demon, and not eager for the death of Christians. Magistrates here in Antioch convicted Ignatius, but on what evidence and whose? The affair is covered with darkness.
Of Neurani’s martyrdom I will tell you later. Most certainly he was eager for emulation, for he shouted fiercely for men to follow in his, unseemly some said, path. They were ones who preferred a softer voice, one loving life more, for as Bishop his thunder roared in our spacious meeting room, thundered as did the old Yahweh, the God name among Hebrews. A lower voice becomes the Christian news of a Yahweh made more gentle, forgiving, universal. That was the argument for the Bishop’s softening. Voice or no, it was the case that Nourani become Bishop and Ignatius, and insofar as we believe the words of men whose voices are strong wine, told us he wanted to be close to God and soon, so as to become a better likeness. In Nourani’s emulation was arrived immolation, whether that be seemly or unseemly, it all rests on a view of things. It was not that Ignatius, contrary to the Teachings would suicide, not so, that was believed a Roman decision, although the path to it is by no means clear, no, not clear at all.
The Romans hereabouts may have viewed Ignatius as religiously troublesome, for his voice was strident, his emotions as well as his faith was strong, and other bishops respected him as a leader. The Romans have had their full of religious troubles from the Jews as, Zealots. In Jerusalem, in Massadah, everywhere in Palestine, and so close in time now, the Diaspora rebellions of 116. Of such violence they have had more than enough. It is the current Christian tragedy that we are, in Roman ruling minds, sometimes the same as Jews. Indeed we are sprung from their religious history and gifts, rely in part on their writings, and have some of them among us, whether much or somewhat converted is another matter. But the Romans, always more alert than informed, can fail to comprehend we are not violent, and that our objections to their gods is not political.
Nourani was not a Jew, but he had plenty of them to beckon, or to incite. Again it depends on one’s view, but for the Romans a Syrian Nourani was very much a Jew, and seen from sedition’s perspective, he was one quite possibly needing attending to, for, was he not high priest of Jew-sprung Christians? Yes, and so if he were bad, and here in Jewish turbulent Syria and Palestine bad is worse, then he was a dangerous high priest indeed. But who might inform that he was dangerous?
He had no fewer enemies for by taking, innovatively or wrongly depends on your tribe, a Greek name. He was the first of Christian leaders to bestow upon himself the image of a Greek and, not immodestly, styling himself the bearer, equally, the vehicle of God, thus “Theophoros”. That is an heavy weight for any man, even if but notional which, for Nourani, it was not. He lent himself as best he could to being his deity’s porter, but while posing more lordly than “porterly’ –which a servant is-I say he stumbled.
That then was what I wrote long ago. In some of it I was unfair.
I know a retired Roman legionnaire farming near my cousin’s farm in Gindarus near the Chalus River north and east of here. I go to my cousin with my family to find quiet, the freshest vegetable and fresh goat not entirely given over to flies as its buzzing tunic. Sometimes the legionnaire pays me to help him in the fields. He speaks of the Roman view of Christians here. He is fair-minded, says a small sect so very different from all others is bound to attract attention. What is new is suspect, what is strange is suspicious, what keeps to itself if a club is against Roman law, and if not a club yet we dine together, what are Christians if not criminal and dangerous? These are questions he asks.
In the eyes of others whom he knows, other legionnaires, most Syrian of course, but more interested in politics than he is, for his interests run to squash, beans and fat goats- I suspect to his neighbor’s wife as well- we Christians distinguish ourselves, even if it is other’s spite and misunderstanding, being so much talked about.. That of course is the underlying noise in all bazaars and no less so Antioch’s. But rumour builds, given the importance of religion, politics, riot and Jewish insurrection. Rumour multiples itself on excited, or scheming tongues, especially when a matter is important, facts are little known and no easy test of those purported is seen at hand. With us little is known to outsiders, their fault not ours for we are eager for all to learn. The Romans are incurious until aroused, whereas. Antioch dances with exited tongues, and enemies and schemers are as plentiful as the stinging gnats, midges, and mosquitoes in the air
No Romans sit with us, the Governor’s palace sends no clerks to learn, and so, based on nothing, it must be worry, words and spite, by which I mean some mean intention, which brought our bishop to gubernatorial attention. I am sure that under Trajan, someone deserving to be lion’s meal must be strenuously recommended by betrayal or a terrible eagerness to draw the governor’s and then later, the lion’s attention. Magistrates in order to interview, review evidence, confront, try, sentence, must work at it seriously. Romans are lazy lot except on the march and battlefield. Magistrates must be propelled to the investigating work, which, under Trajan and regarding slander as to Christians, is not encouraged. No, my belief is that Roman fear and preventive diligence were powered by some local jealousy, disguised ambition, and some fierce local righteousness.
The accused must actively refuse what Romans see as reasonable attempts at compromise. No compromise with belief or faith is at stake, for Romans are indifferent to a man’s beliefs, mumbled prayers or for that matter, loud chants It is intrigue they worry about whereas they demand ritual display of loyalty to their gods. The legionnaire whose son is friends with a magistrate’s son in one of the legions, learns that those accused who act with grandstanding effrontery, banging a Christian chest so to speak, or in pride or insolence insult the dignity of a magistrate, or if higher ranked, a proconsul, are the ones who are marked. The Empire’s daily conduct is by form and submissiveness. With magistrates bribes do quite well of course, but we Christians are not rich enough to enjoy that more certain course.
As to what convicts a Christian, the famous proconsul of Asia Pliny asked Trajan who replied insisting there be proofs of disobedience to Roman law and loyalty, as opposed to Domitian or Nero’s time when the accuser could hide in shadows to denounce in malicious whispers. The Emperor Hadrian, who as I write succeeded Trajan, elevated here in Antioch in our Christian year 117. Hadrian in an edict did the same, writing Minucius Fundamnus that he required great care and probity, commanding that in any accusation of a Christian there be no harassment, nor role for informers nor maliciousness, and as further balance, there would be punishment for slander against the Christians. All tribunals are obliged to carefully weighs and examine evidence in each case, to follow the law with evenness. Even if found guilty, there are to be degrees of fault and therefore slight and moderate as well as deadly punishments.
A wise emperor, and Trajan was, Hadrian is that, will not wish to incite or be incited against, nor to victimize beyond his personal enemies. The political task is to differentiate between seditious harm inciting to rebellion versus the justice of sober governance. Roman rule does not preference for force when good administration suffices, for there are comparatively few legions for so large an empire. Force internally is a last not first choice of wise rulers. The Roman army is the greatest the world has ever known, but its task is conquest to expand the Empire. On far frontiers that threat may suffice to bring kings to heel, thence by treaty and in fear, awesome respect, to let them rule their lands as subject princes, as with Armenia.
Once conquered, a region pacified, it is a rule by power, threat, law, competent administration and widespread benefits. To see men hanging on a cross is of course a deterrent. To pass a building where official torturers are at work is terrifying to the point of sweat and nausea In general Rome rules easily because the benefits of being well governed, compared with barbarian lands, are great indeed. That is true for Christians in their commerce is true for Jews as well, whether in Palestine or Rome or elsewhere. The Jews, more energetic, shrewd, and probably brighter than Romans, have prospered. The truth of things by no means assures gratitude, but then truths are rarely unmixed.
The sum of my argument, I apologize again for no cleverness in words, and for what I am about to write, is that Romans do not hate Christians as long as we do as they ask respecting ritual reverence in acknowledging the symbols of Rome which are their gods. These gods are, for everyone, lifeless, but stand for the State, are historically believed to see to Rome’s welfare and power, and as such are objects of respect as unifying benefactors, but to even true Romans, by which I mean those with Italian blood, do not pray meaningfully. It is not at all a religious nation. They are spiritually entirely empty. That by no means rules out superstition.
I comment further on our Bishop, for I have spent a sleepless night seeking recollection. I say this: Ignatius did not denounce himself nor plot against himself. Nevertheless he sought martyrdom passionately, fervently, petulantly, recklessly and insistently He was a bull in heat for sacrifice, indeed as some said, for the spectacle of it. A caustic sage would say he was either a man with self-doubt, or guilt, or had been denied the career of actor or gladiator.
In Rome at that paroxysmal moment, and through that moment and the future, Ignatius would gain a larger audience than ever attended him in Antioch. Here he would be, he claimed, a sacrifice like Jesus. Ignatius, I do not know why, required some ridding of himself, like a man afire high on the burning building jumps for the relief of it. The Romans, as with Nourani. relish spectacles. The raving audiences requiring them as pleasure, in their groins I suspect, for they, like the hyenas and lions were also being fed, fed by their emperors who knew their natures. Nourani’s nature demanded proof of himself in sacrifice, but also to others, publicizing proof to God, Jew, gentile and follower. Inside him, anger; let the Romans beware of the strength in such sacrificing. Writing in advance as its advertising, Nourani saw martyrdom as a marvel, himself a mirror in the mouth of lions that would reflect the very sun of his glory.
You see I speak unkindly, both in ignorance of his true nature and suspecting knowing its parts as his servant. Too many of us fail in our undertaking, I certainly do, yet I know for fact that for all the love and admonitions to proper ceremony, service and righteousness which he wrote to other bishops, letters that our narrow world now reads, his demands on us servants were imperious. This bishop would thrice be crowned, once in consecration, daily in our subjugation, and as God’s martyr in the arena. To us, not always but enough times to remember, as the beaten slave remembers the occasional lash, he was discourteous, tyrannical, a bit then of a beast. No plebian serving higher Roman would expect otherwise, but in this chosen house of elected love, it is a disappointment when people are ordinary. I say then in anger, a bishop when beast when fed to beasts is a pr0per link in a chain of eating upon which the kingdom of animals is built and dies. It is only the human animal which is saved as well as created because we know through Jesus of God.
I apologize for frankness here, which may be, only malicious error further complimenting itself. I am UN Christian in my biting. When I drink from the holy chalice offered at this bishop’s hand, it is as if soot had fallen in the wine, bitter. But look, I always obeyed and never did him harm, nor while he lived speak ill of him. This invited memoir, chronicle, is my spiteful opportunity. I apologize. I am more low human than Christian in writing it. And yes, I exaggerate insofar my chronicle is fair at all. So said, there is some irony that Ignatius made of himself an especial something, for history if not eternity (I am now of two minds about that, the wiser one skeptical.), because some mangy lion ate him. If even that is to be believed.
A magician was this bishop, for by disappearing he has assured his enduring presence. Down a gullet and up with praise. God’s gladiator losing life to the beast but winning after all because his gladiator’s net was cast to capture fame. Greatness on the cusp of lion’s incisors, the Bishop chewing on that achievement while a cat’s molars grind. I should think the noise an interference. Cat food for a flea-bitten much oversized pussy out dining in Rome. Easy enough, I suppose, if one ignores the blood, but since I am only a Bishop’s servant without ambition, only a somewhat Christian, I will, thank you, not seek a martyrs journey to Rome. I flatter myself; I suppose deacons are not worth the transport to Rome, their dying entertains only provincial crowds . Bloodthirsty Antiocheans at the arena do not deserve me. (No Christians or Athenians attend, out of loathing). Let my bloodthirsty neighbors and the lions starve! This small Deacon, Luke, who rather likes himself, life here and now, who considers the hereafter to be a chancy matter, is, for all his ignorance, pragmatic. In saying this, Lord forgive me, for I may possibly have sinned.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter