A Troubled Assembly
Mine is a troubled assembly. As with Peter and Paul, Barnabas and Paul, there are fallings out over how much should be kept of Jewish ways. These and other unwelcome bequests churn us. I face false prophets, gibberishing tongues, and rebellion. As Paul left here angry, so do some once of my flock as they desert to other groups where, bolstered in error by numbers, and in anger by the fevers which afflict crowds, we are attacked. As for my own house, dispute is not consequential if it is as with the Greek philosophers in the forum, simply pleasure in the learned noise they make, or simply in argument, sophistry. I would be moderate, offer argument, show tolerance, if I were persuaded that it is only the mind, not the soul, redemption, salvation and true Christianity which are at stake. What I hear are beliefs, sometimes blasphemy, faith and God’s word confounded. Some of course are true to God. Some say nothing beyond what is proper to do in the service and in speech. Among these silent ones there may also be enemies. Do I myself fail to understand the Spirit so that I am weakened? I swell up with myself, my deep thoughts, but some of it may only be wind. I ease my mind by writing letters, meeting with other bishops, think deeply and pray. I trust that my interpretations made public word are true knowings of God, Jesus.
Among us in my house some believe in Jewish ways, the Teacher, but not Christ as Soterious, Savior they insist we circumcise and keep the law of the Hebrews. Some others believe the Jews are nothing, reject the Torah, prophets, and any Temple ways where, for them the Christ in his passion and resurrection is all. But whether his “all” is as Spirit at no time really flesh, or whether flesh indeed and man and God together, how can I be their best bishop when I myself am not sure?
Some, Essenes somewhat recently reformed to Paul’s ways – they do not circumcise- are fled from Qumran and will not keep our Sundays, yet they accept a Teacher of Righteousness who knows whereof all prophesies spoke. But such a teacher was not, they say, Jesus. Their meal of wine and bred is not with us. Their separate Eucharist bespeaks no church united, nor is it easy for me that they keep their own priests and respect a bishop insufficiently, indeed with impudence costly to me by their example to others. I should, but do not bear their disobedience meekly. Essenes then are in my house but not of it. My Fire will not remain meek. I demand obedience on such matters. In Antioch it is so easy to make enemies, in a church easier, among those with deep religious minds, most easy.
Worst amongst us are of two kinds. There are, first, those who claim the authority of their own visions, as if Christ had chosen them his messenger. They insist he has. They have no discipline. Prophecy once was great with us, but when it leads to the ridiculous, such shouts, warning, babbling makes the weaker attendees in this house credulous. It ushers all kinds of nonsense, some of it but vanity or confusion, but it contaminates our Eucharist meal which should be worshipful, saving and sacrificial, transporting, unifying not contentious, not irrelevant. There can be no unity in a faith where each defines his faith by the incoherent words he has spoken in trance. They are fleas, these words, fleas jumping all about. They bite us!
The second kinds of corruption within us is when the Devil, as “Diavolos” who throws the ball between, brings discord. His so righteous disciples speak as snakes hissing safely from a far windowsill, not readily seen for what they are, never forthright and never true. A viper at least has markings, and one knows their habitats so as to avoid them. Not so the Discordant for they abide here in our house, have markings meek and pious and hiss their whispers in shadows were their Bishop cannot hear. It is the whispers that are the slithering and the bite of these vipers, the Discordant are deadly to love or unity. I fear that some would also, as vipers do, kill. If so they will kill mix their own deadly poison with the honey wine of Jesus’ name.
The Name, blessed and unknown, known and blessing us, is the Name. Gnostics of the blessed sort revere and claim to know special words. When used in cunning to deceive, a name, the Name becomes special in its power. When the Son appeared the name of God was manifest in being, there for eyes to behold. “ He is arrived, I have seen him” was mankind’s jubilant cry and then later, “He is risen” was also cried out as he rose to return his to the Unseen. God in Jesus if believed only a spirit, denies his flesh, our salvation, the substance of Christianity. The Word when read is realized by our faith then our future. His Name is energy not substance, and since we cannot hypostatize, his Name before our eyes or our ears, becomes Him. To Gnostics he is but an epiphany in sound and ink. Hebrews saw Yahweh. Mankind saw Him as and in Jesus the Christ. No vision in history has been so blessed, no ears so fortunate as to hear Him and the Word. No wonder so great to behold as to envision him, even though untouchable, returning after Resurrection. There is no sadness greater than that many hereabouts professing Jesus who deny he was flesh crucified. No, they say, he was as with all other gods, only spirit, and as a laughing spirit he hovered above the cross, suffered no pain for mankind, made no saving sacrifice at all. What real remains? The is that is not, a diaphanous void, no hearty God there who can make a baby or drink good wine. We prize the flesh, and so we must accept the sins of it. No spirit alone can redeem us.
The Name has come to us with Christ and with it the opportunity, as with all words, to be made into evil when there is that intention. Any magician knows that much, words are summoned and summon the thing, summon the force, but depend on intent, and the power of the words over the thing. Intent rules magic. Intent rules men. God is not summoned by magicians, although with our mumblings we may seem to act so. It is our Will in relationship to Him that matters. The Will is the thing, but it is not empty, there is substance in it, a consubstantiability one could say, for there is nothing to Christianity if we are not the two phenomena made one, flesh and.
The Prince of this World is clever with words that are the tools and weapons of men. Satan is clever, and will bind men to him with spells made of their own words. A spider is not tangled by his own web. When Satan is the spider, men are easily so. There are spiders in this assembly, some deadly, some Satan. Without love and obedience there is no protection from binding curses, from deadly discord. Only in God, and through his Bishop, can we cure our empty disunity. In this church some await the cure, others by their own rebelliousness, evil or credulity are denied it. The Prince takes great delight in our separation, for each soul standing alone is more readily bound by the Prince. Any man apart, and without Christ, is not in lively communion. That soul, the human carrying it is, is empty without and thereby within. Emptiness, gradations of Nothing cannot venture to deity. One can hear the fat of their flesh bubbling, sputtering in the fires of hell.
Christ bids all to be one in him, to be with the One in him. He makes no demand for sameness, for all men differ by nature, tongue, tribe, trade. He offers but does not demand love, although if it is not received and there then to returned, enlarged in sharing, the very route by which to enter his house where love is and he was manifest is missing. Only Emptiness is there which, is as Void the same as evil. And so in this small house of the Lord, some denying the gift know only dissent. They know a certainty much greater than their Bishop’s, for theirs is the certainty of Hell.
It would help were there historical authority of the sort the Hebrews have inscribed but there is little. I have the letter to Corinthians, and Mathew easily come by since written here. Even so it is under that constant revision which squabbling makes, each author, whatever apostolic name he adopts, asking as I do what is the best way to know Christ and through him then our own resurrection to God’s place. Travelers to whom we offer the three days of hospitality bring rumours of writers elsewhere and readings elsewhere, but I have not seen them. Of those I have heard most one who will go by the name of John. There is also told a writer in Ephesus, whose very name is a secret one.
One traveler who has come here saying he knows that man, says this man, he also calls him ‘John” is so passionate in his hatred of Rome, so gifted with words, that he conjures with them as if a magician and in fact bringing visions before the eyes of those to whom he rants and cries, and cries out against Rome as queen of whores Satan is her pimp, he shouts. As for the late Emperor Domitian who called himself God at such great cost to so many Syrian Christians who died in denying it, this so-called John called Domitian,” Antichrist”. The traveler told us this John holds it is better that all should die martyrs than any of us should live obedient to the Antichrist in offerings to the stone gods of the Whore. The traveler said this pseudo- named John rages and may foam as he speaks. His visions are true, terrible and in many colors, colors also for those who hear him, for his coloring is miraculously contagious. This John is a seer, gifted by God so knowing many things to come.
I would that we could secretly see these writings, necessarily keep them elsewhere for to hold them is likely treason. Such writings if found by Trajan’s men might condemn us all. Were such books here, some member would betray us, for so deep is our strife .among us would gladly, I say exceedingly gladly, betray the others. Not many brothers and sisters here have a martyr’s taste for savage beasts met at their ravening table. Searchers who have not found Grace do not wish to die it. It takes a substantial Christian to defy Rome, or for that matter, and I speak as listening pastor, to disagree with a mother-in-law.
Any other writers on Jesus, as here with Mathew, is well advised to take the name of an apostle so as to invite the ghost residing in the better name to guide one’s hand as one puts stories, respected words to parchment. An eminent name on a book, however false, also guarantees it be read. People need authority and heed it more if a better name than only a faithful new-coming scrivener is attached. When I come to write openly, I shall bring the authority of a respected bishop. I light my way with my quality known early on, Fire. As with the tongues of fire, sometimes mine is scorching, sometimes only warming. My flames vary depending on their fuel, their spirit, thus sometimes reaching tall, sometimes but embers. Some complain I am inconsistent, it is not so, for I am as Fire is, which is ever changeable.
Would I were not Fire but the sweet dew which carpets a morning meadow of a spring day, I dislike my hidden passions. As to that against Rome I stand firm, but reasoned, as a bishop must. It is due to the Devil’s private attentions that I verge on madness. It is a night thing. Find no frailty in those sensible, careful, lucid letters that I write as we bishops construct the institutional framework for faith. In my letters to the Ephesan, Magnesians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnians, and to the latter’s splendid Bishop Polycarp, I work as a builder, counselor, a guide to right and righteousness.
As for those letters forged by others attributed to my hand, letters to the Virgin Mary to St John, they will be difficult to deliver, since nowadays and mischievously written and their addressees quite, quite dead. A forger who mimics me is in so many ways a fool..
There are letters given to me written by some here who know I soon will die. They have asked me to carry their news and longings, anticipations of meeting soon, to their beloved and resurrected dead. I must needs carry those words with me to heaven. To do so follows Greek custom and is a sensible posting, for the words are inscribed on the parchment of my soul. As for any last words of mine not written, they will never be known by mortals, for hungry tigers whom I shall sate in the arena, are no messengers on Roman post roads.
I carry words to the already dead as duty and act of love. But I am compelled to ask God to His face what he demands. I must comprehend His forms, that architecture of the divine I must learn how the mystery of the energy of His being, which we call His spirit, transforms itself to forms simultaneously appearing divine and earthly. Being earthly, or only appearing so? That is the Jesus question and the transforming one. How, I ask, does the Maker make? As with Elean philosophers, what is the essence underlying substance and spirit? I take it to be a single essence, for all and everywhere is of God. So then, what are the atoms of love? I know God will instruct me, comprehending the Mystery is a great port for my piloting soul to reach. My ship arrives bruised, but the soul it carries will be entirely attentive.
And so, no, it is not living eternally that matters, not some perpetual picnic without the gnats. I am not as a man happy enough, even without the Devil as company, to want to live on in this form, and so the prospect of spirit rather than flesh prevailing appeals. It is without my understanding, but I know no dream is as good realized as it’s dreaming the promise is of soul as spirit partaking of God instructed in increasing Godliness. No matter those confident letters to others on their duties and my contemplations. Builder’s plans not yet approved by the Architect. I am tortured by incorrigible ignorance much contrary to my duties to my flock, for what I should joyfully explain, I in fact would joyfully have explained to me Of all the wondrous telling as promises as compacts awaiting in the Christ story, best is the love of God in this life, and meeting him when I die, for then I will be granted eternal understanding.
I have received and given little enough of love in life. God’s is essential to me, but given my limitations, I am anxious that it may be- simpler folks need not worry-conditional. This is my fear, it need not be that God withholds. Even so, it is a cruel curse which compels me to subtract from Glory the heavy weight of Satan. I am not one with Paul on sin; Adam was a too distant ancestor to be pre-potent, whereas the Hebrew has been preoccupied with fault as failure to abide by the law. Obedience, respect, ritual, these seem mechanical forms to be hazarded only by rebellion, ignorance, or flawed character. Sin is a deep thing reverberating within the very soul. For myself, I think me no intentional sinner, but nevertheless I bear Satan’s stamp however unwillingly. To destroy his work in me, purify myself, prove myself worthy of God’s love, I rush to martyrdom. I wonder if other martyrs, even the pure and sweet ones like the virgin of Carthage, had their own experience with the Devil within, with Satan who storms the flesh?
In the meantime, I have lived the lie of God- knowing, been false example to my congregation, seemed brave in courage and martyrdom when that is only a little is so. I am desperate to the depths of my soul and am driven as a starving dog to devouring knowledge of that which whose human name, unrevealing is God. I wonder, will He tell me how he names himself?’’ He already knows I name myself by contradictions. I name others in this same way, as I describe this early assembly yet disassembled, this my church not yet agreed let alone universal. Yet “universal” must come. I know it will.
I am happy to render myself as a sacrifice, I offer myself as tribute. I die for this. Shall I be forfeit only to the Roman pride? Or is it to evil in my own assembly? Is God’s mysterious will at work in Roman law? Of is it the Devil’s game in a conspiracy in my assembly who would see me die? Or, I shudder but this little time of mine is given over to shuddering, shaking and quivering yet I allow, (one has learned too much as a child) I know it is blasphemous, can it be his appetite is hidden, that He is a devouring God, Baal or the like, who demands human sacrifice? It cannot be but my mind is set loose in the storm of myself. Forgive me, Lord, these are the Devil’s thoughts, not my own, my Abba. My Abba, I beg not to be forsaken. I have tried so very hard to be a good bishop. I am in so many other matters weak. What else could I have done? I beg and pray again, forgiveness, mercy, redemption. I am such a tortured, well intending, fractured man. With all my fire, it is strange that some people find me a bore.
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