CHAPTER  XIV 

 Possibilities


I, LUKE, wrote this material some years ago..  I am ashamed of myself for what it tells of me.  It exposes my mischief and much that is unkind about Nourani.  I am not happy about either revealed, but I promised Balthus to give him all these personal documents.  You learn here not of Ignatius, his Letters or pious commentary, nor of Ignatius presenting the architecture of Deity, or Ignatius the wise --and pompous--  deep in council with other bishops,  no you read of nighttime Ignatius as he wrote of himself. You also are made privy to what I wrote of him.  I was his acting secretary and, slowly, his servant confidant  That is not to say he trusted me.  It is not to imply he should have trusted me.  He trusted other bishops some,  admired others more, Polycarp the most. He did not envy even the most senior of bishops. He was not close to anyone. I think he despised mortality. He shared this with the Gnostics. He begrudgingly allowed Jesus his flesh  He would disclose God to others as best he knew Him,  I presume he disclosed himself to God,  as if anyone has a choice about that. As for being close to us lowly humans, Ignatius? You jest.


These notes are from long ago, 115, spring 116, then early 117.  The Bishop had called me in to record something, “to do another day,” he said. He was in workaday mood mixed with a bit of reflection. He was often reflective. A bishop is expected to think about things. Or write of them whether he has thought or not.  His workaday bishop’s brain was a better friend to both of us than was his straining personal ego. His soul, of which I had perhaps caught glimpses in his rare states of contemplative joy, was, he said, his treasury, for he believed that within it dwelt his portion of God that tied him to heaven.   As I envisioned it, it was a spiritual umbilical cord.  I don’t think he would have liked my idea. Not that he much liked any of my ideas, but then I do not claim a bishop’s talking mind. My ideas on Jesus, God, man, soul, Heaven and Hell, whatever else bishops talk about are not very clear. I take there to be some integrating relations tending to unity. That is enough for me. I ask no more.


The Bishop was seated on a pile of pillows. He  indicated I should sit down too.  He wanted to chat.


“Luke, I’ve heard from one of our brothers about an eccentric Roman nobleman, a war hero, who  serves with Trajan.  I want you to record it.  I’ll come to that in a moment, but just for now, today, I had a letter from a fellow bishop worrying about my so-called Gnostic leanings.  The accusation doesn’t really bother me but still, well,  I wonder what an ordinary fellow who knows me might think.  First, do you know what Gnostics are?” 


I did. I have a friend who chases his own tail trying to make sense of it, for he has become one. If he ever catches himself and swallows it he’ll be constipated forever.   “Gibberish” I told the Bishop


“Not entirely, but mostly. but one can’t help but think about it, after all they’re Christians too, they insist,  and in a very esoteric,  nothing is ever as it appears way. They aare writing their own versions of God, Jesus, the holy and of holy men, also women whom they elevate to the sacred power. They make much of mysteries to which they claim they have the keys. Some of our Assembly will go for it more than others. To my mind, insofar as we allow for energies as not forms, allow for their transformation one to the other state, where the sensible one, its appearance, is its nature, so where this two-sexed high God underlying the two is onee same essence, substance, “hypostaces” then, so Sofia as wisdom and God female and God male are the same essence as God in Jesus.. Apparent natures change, but essence is just that. Consider the spirit of fire for instance transforming natures of wood into heat into air or sun as heat transforming seed into tree where underlying the form of things is a constant. Some Greek scientists,  Eleans, claimed that underlying all is motion or atoms, although we know better, for it is the mighty divine  essence which underlies appearances of  God as Christ Jesus. It is the same correspondance entirely immaterial with the Ghost . One sees that essence, you may call it as Greeks might, energy or motion, is absent in the inertness and decay of the dead whose souls have departed. It allows me the conclusion that the soul is energy, immaterial as is God and so of the same, thus hypostases.  There, I have explained it as my thoughts arising in my religious mind  clarify the otherwise mystery of it.  You do see that don’t you, Luke, the obvious simplicity of it?”


I can lie when I must, lying,  recognizing it as more useful than proper. I am not a bad fellow however much I am only a scampering Deacon doing the Bishop’s bidding.  A good Christian, I am that on the surface and social presentation  of me, will not to yield to the temptation of either the play or power of lying. But here and now, given my Bishop’s question, and wanting to please him to keep my job, I had no easy lie to manufacture as proof I understood any of it.  A simple “yes” might lead to his asking me to elaborate on that arising from his deep religious mind. A predictament then, a picklement, to show appreciation of tis deep thinking which I did not comprehend at all. My evasion must be tassles on the elephant, ribbons on a camel’s tale, words rising above any simple lying “yes”.  One must summon a legionnaire’s  solid, soldiering forward march to matching gibberish.  Unhappily, my brain had little clarifying substance to transform into the multiple natures of words, which ought to be material enough since they pour out of mouths like liquid and bounce in and out of ears, well, somehow. Or are words because one cannot see, weigh, eat them, essences?  Insofar as mischief is one part of my own nature, as is a ready tongue, is this  dodging subtance of me my essence? Does it join me underneath to every other scamp in Syria? 


As I sweated this one I asked myself, which of us, Ignatious Bishop or me is the greater fool? He for expecting a mind like mine, shallower than an Orontes tributary rivulet in a hot, dry summer, to comprehend his deep religius mind, or me with the nerve to parry his theological sword with my impish inventions? Well, dive in Luke, dance about, speak very quickly so the very speed of me confounds his understanding.  I am a dragon fly bobbing, dipping, zipping over a pond, flit, flit and flitting. May the waiting frog not catch me. 

 

 “ Bishop I am so grateful to you for educating me. So, ‘yes’ to you and on thinking about it of course you are absolutely right. Take words as proof, your Grace, and words are often offered as just that, but no question that there is energy in them,  varying with their temperature but even if heard a word is unseen, so ‘hypostasis” is what words are,  whereas when transmuted, their nature emerges in the writing down of them. And yes, your Eminence,  a Eureka for me thanks to you your Excellency, words are substance. But, as you explain,  so is God,  so that what God hears in prayers is himself which must be pleasing. On the other hand, what writes down, those forms,  is their emerging nature, which for the ignorant gives no hint that something different underlies them, or, better said, is behind them.  Diplomats and clever women know that perfectly well. All perfectly understandable, if one is agreeably lunatic, or perhaps genius, and allows the “thereness” of the undetectable. Consequently everything has two aspects, one shared as substance, energy, soul, and the other the you-can-hit-the-rock-with-your-foot, Bishop, multiple, sensible natures.  The idiot Plato has it all reversed, and no I never read him but in the marketplace he is much discussed, along with the price of fish and whores, whereas, wherein, and whereabouts I am told Plato chains his One-eyed thus Cyclopean hypostasis in a cave where it takes shadows of a sun not there, who has ever seen the sun in a cave of all things, to produce the practical natures of things, none of them perfect, Plato says, and who would dispute that, eh?  Christians should rise above material disappointment with natural imperfections because their worry is in perfecting their souls, not so much imperfect pots to piss in. Here then,  what I write is essence transmuted, or if ugly enough, transmogrified.  In my power then isto  make one world of substance into another world of nature, of derived forms.  Don’t you think so, your Illumination? “


He stared at me, not an happy look at all, even sick.  I was not sure whether I would get, a basin full of puke, or if I did not scamper fast enough, a swift kick at the rear-side nature of me.  I realized that I was nevertheless on to something, all this transmutation wherein and whereby I am become a  magician. I can teach the sorcerer’s trick! Open a necromancy shop in the marketplace next to the money changers. Now those tricksters really know the magic of turning what I thought I had for exchange into not having much at all. I reassure myself, thanks to knowing hypostasis, it is only money’s nature that changes, its essence remains, my client’s  money is there somewhere,  the job is my maaagician’s one, to summon it. Here then, one sells incantations, prayers, spells, all attracting essences.

 

The Bishop is not a patient man. As I wandered about in my flowering garden of essences, fragrances are that after all, he raged, he fumed, he cursed most un-Christian, nor did it appease him when I called the latter to his attention. An impossible fellow, this Bishop. But credit to him, he summoned control and pastoral speech,


“Our gift, you fool, is that our God did transmute, appear,  allow essence and nature joined The pagan gods are all spirit, just as lesser demons are. The great gift we have, Luke, is to know spirit joined flesh in Jesus, aside from the salvation of it, as if that could ever be an aside, what it does, Luke, what it does, is to make us, mankind, whole, both worlds united in a sacred singularity, and insofar as men now realize in themselves essence and nature, unity.   A mystery yes, but not a dichotomy, a solution, Luke,   Do you see that Luke?”


I had run out of rope to play with. He pays me to agree, this Luke, the dutiful me, Luke the humble   


“Yes, Bishop”      


Fact is, I take no great interest in these things, am skeptical of weaving of words into ideas into truths and Istill can’t see the hard and real in my hands. The Bishop works as much wonder with words as the Gnostics could ever hope to, but the story is simpler, close at hand, no low god, high God far away stuff. His story:  God- in- Jesus-as-man- become unifying Christ-for-all our sakes, faith in that is salvation.  All fairly simple if you have heard it enough times.    The Bishop tells stories about a miracle people can believe because proofs happen while they are sitting there, flesh on the bench in God’s house. What happens? A no -fooling excitement of Something there makes the flesh tingle. Ball lightening in one’s lap and no burn to it, just energy, just light.  A Bishop with tingling powers has no hard sell, and consider; he has Heaven, brotherly love, charity, forgiveness, and God-within you all for free in his maket stall. 


The Bishop goes a lot further than I do, parables and miracles and healings and mostly explanations by way of weaving words as “this is it” promises he has read in Corinthians or Mathew, or heard in those Jesus stories, no one quite like the next, which people tell one another.   Still and all, hypocrite that I am since I tell them myself as part of my job, yet don’t believe it all. I acknowledge the stories work for the good.   Even I am impressed with the smiling wonder, some say, “rapture” as some brother or sister listening transits then and there to a state of joy. Matter and energy, back and forth, allowing us to alternate, both in us at once.  I don’t understand it, don’t care if I don’t, but that’s the common sense state of things no worse than most other things beyond me.


The Bishop sat there irritably there waiting for me to say something more.  He pays me to say what he wants to hear. I had better get it right. 


“Here’s the way I see it, Excellency, Dominus, your Grace…” He pays me in particular to hear that sort of honey dripped in his ear. As for this topic, I should be better at it since every market street in Antioch is noisy with religion. It was my job-at-stake duty to criticize the Gnostics, but gently, since some of the other bishops had already accused Ignatius here of being too close to them, so who knows where I might step on an ecclesiastical toe.   I had to say something,so, .

 

“The Gnostics spin these tales of secret words to get their folk to their special heaven.  They tempt the seekers—those folks who always want to be initiated into something, feel special, never satisfied, they leap from sect to sect like grasshoppers chased by a child with a stick. In fact a lot of them seem confused and will never get anything straight. Anyway I’ve heard their line,  ‘Join us sister and we’ll let you into the secret lock to the secret gate to the secret trail to the secret High God, the High God, not a material ounce to him, all a buzz of energy and spirit, the force who really counts above the brute that made the mess that is this world of ours is. Brother, fizz into spirit with us, we levitate above the mess’ 


Oh?  And so what I say to that is,  ‘ Levitate me out of my debt to the fruit seller down in the market and I’ll believe you.  but this Gnostic jumble, Great Seth,  Zodiac mysteries,  Orphic whatever.  Chase their Wisdom goddess Sophia, lift up her skirt, and what’s there?  Should be a woman?    No, they have you seeing a parchment scroll with words on it, probably in Aramaic to boot.  These are the folks who wear funny hats, think that behind every door is another door.  These snakes swallow their own tail come out their mouth, chase that, swallow it again and, right, the snake is full of himself, all tied up in knots, and no space left for the mouse he has to swallow to stay alive. Is there ever any end to the nonsense of it?  I get sick of words.  But the Gnostics, well, too much” I added humbly,  “Of course I’m only a poor Deacon,”


I wouldn’t even be Deacon if I told the Bishop what I was really thinking, or think I was thinking since on this I begin to chase my own tail.  But consider it; anytime the Bishop tells a brother a story which makes our creator God into pure love and forgiveness, and the brother believes it just as the Bishop does, well that’s as fancy as fancy a s trick as I can imagine.  Look at this mess!  Forget the Devil, he is either God’s choice to test us which means he’s God’s own lad which puts evil on God’s lap, or if not, if Satan is free and loose. Maybe the Zoroastrians had it right, always a war between the two high gods.    King of Heaven sure, but He can’t get off the hook Himself for also being the architect who made us,  this mess. The Commandment says “love thy neighbor as thyself”. That’s an invitation to disaster. If a like myself, and I very much do, I need protect myself from my neighbor who is, generally, a bastard. Distance or a sword is what applies best, anything else is suicidal.  


What I really suspect is that God sent Jesus so late into human history because God was feeling bad about the mess he’s made, we had made, so everyone to blame   If he wanted any human good opinion at all he’d have to earn it, so decided he’ better invest some pure love and forgiveness, get us out of the suffering he hadn’t anticipated piling up for us.  When he was Yahweh he was pretty busy punishing us, and we were pretty busy deserving it.  Not me of course, but the Jews. In any event come Jesus and this new idea of God’s. .Maybe humans would pay more attention to him, to being good, with a big reward dangling in front of us so He invited us to Heaven.   In Jesus he came down to take a look, tell us what to do, made more sure we’d do it right this time by putting himself in all of us so he could be inside to turn our ears the right direction for listening.  If that doesn’t work, well there’s Judgment Day and he can throw us all out, maybe start life on a star to see if a new plan works better.   So for the moment here we, well they are, Christians working our way out of the bad.

 

“What are you thinking, Luke?” 


“Oh, Bishop, only how fine it is that you asked my poor opinion, allowed me to think on these great matters


Ah, I’d fed him again, the Bishop even smiled ---believe me he wasn’t much of a one for that- and said, 


“I like the way you put it, Luke.  Now I get to other matters. Write this down, label it all, ‘possible action’. We have a brother in the assembly whose brother is a solder in II Trajana.  Now that the Emperor Trajan is here to lead them, it’s spring and they’re off to Parthia.  Their king has been meddling in our Armenia. It appears that Trajan is going east with four legions to teach him some royal manners, also to acquire some more real estate for Rome. Emperors love triumphant returns, parading captives, acquiring treasure, building themselves honoring arches and columns.  Vanity and power, Luke, vanity and power. 


The two brothers are close.  Our member’s brother is particularly impressed with one of the senior centurions, as you know centurions have different levels of command, from the 80 in a “century” to thousands, depending on their rank experience, skill, influence back home.   This one, S. Cornelius, is true nobility.   This S.Cornelius is not like the convert Peter’s followers claim. Peter’s convert was certainly not an aristocratic  blood Cornelius, no,  Peter’s man would likely have been a Palestinian of some lower rank,  likely in Legion X Fretensis which was busy enough in Judea, headquartered in Caesarea.  He would have taken on a Roman name like most military provincials do.  That one Peter bragged about was no relation to this one begot directly out of the Gracchi Tribunes and  Scipio Africanus He is even related to our recent Governor here, Cornelius Palma Frontonianus Aulus who was replaced when Trajan appointed his nephew Hadrian to be Governor of Syria. 


This S. Cornelius is a distinguished senior centurion, centurions are the core of the skill and command of the Army. Even the lowest ranked centurion is highly paid. This S. Cornelius fought with Hadrian on the Danube. The story, I gather it’s a well known army tale, is that he was with the Legion II Adiutrix on the Danube in the same unit with Hadrian, by then a general as befits being Trajan’s nephew.  It was summer of 99, Trajan had come down from Germany for an inspection of the troublesome Moesian area, its warrior Dacians and Sarmatians were always making raids, ambushing when they could.  At the moment things were quiet, Trajan had crossed the Danube with his Batavian horse guards and a few thousand picked men from Legion II Adiutrix.  Hadrian was with him, Cornelius was around thirty years old and, as a knight, a centurion with a few years of combat behind him, was with the Adiutrix brigade.   Once across the Danube by a narrow bridge, the contingent was ambushed.  Legions are used to such stratagems, the new horse guard was effective, but Hadrian had not much fighting experience, however brave he was.  Hadrian was in the forefront when a reserve group of Samartians came up from their rear while the Roman forward cohorts were cut off by a group of mixed Dacian, Samartian horse.  


One trick the locals used on their home ground was an ambush where they dropped  nets from lines strung across the trees along the road, the same principle as net-armed gladiators in the arena. Any hunters knows it. Experienced legionnaires know to hold the nets above them with their shields, cut through them with swords, but Hadrian, not in a phalanx, and busy proving himself as point man so to speak, got tangled and ready game. Seven Samartians came at him. For them to kill a young general, obviously an important family, even if they didn’t know it was Trajan’s nephew, reads well in reports and when telling the girls.  


S. Cornelius was positioned next to Hadrian, for battle-smart warrior he was, he had anticipated such troubles, and worried about such exposure of the young general. S. Cornelius sliced his knife through the webbed rope to get near to Hadrian who was now thoroughly enmeshed, his sword arm up,  caught at the elbow as the Samartians, knowing they had their prey near bound,  tightened the net.  It is generous not to say Hadrian was in a panic, but it would have been more than likely.  There he was, his one free hand clutching at the netting, his sword twirling useless in the air, there snarling like a netted tiger, or jumping about like a rabbit for all I know.  He had forgotten about his knife entirely. that his one arm was free to use it.


All S.Cornelius had to do was kill seven heavily axe -armed bruisers,  fend off others coming up from three sides,  and make as sure as he could that his own sword lopped through the webbing before any rescue squad got close enough see their general trussed helplessly like some bear. That was the situation, tough Samartians ready to thrust Hadrian through, and take the head for boasting and a prize. For any Roman, let alone a young general, the humiliation of his own men coming upon him while he  helplessly ensnared, victim of his own eager stupidity, would have been worse than dying


So the story has it. S. Cornelius saved Hadrian’s head and dignity, thus his present and his future and that upon which his imperial future depended, his reputation\with the legions.  The event was in fact witnessed by a few of the forward squad now regrouped,  for with S.Cornelius good work, the ambushers were either dead or fled. Barbarians have no honor that prevents a route. By no means however, was the battle over. S.Cornelius was soon under pressure again, there being no protective phalanx at all. Hadrian knew nothing of that, having been safely hustled to the rear where he might ponder better tactics, and be glad he had avoided humiliation or death.  The event was not then recorded, but not because an embarrassed Hadrian’s command not to do so,  but by S. Cornelius’s. Anyone afterwards  asking S. Cornelius about his rescue,  would hear him say it was a slanderous tale started by defeated Samartians,  spread by their angry womenfolk when taken as slaves, women taken for their sex enjoyed by as many troopers as might like the reward and sport of it.  It was said that Hadrian later inquired of S. Cornelius as to the further events of the day. What he might have replied is not known. One can be sure it would be modest.


No one pressed Hadrian about the incident. He was not, after all, accessible, for sometime that day he had been wounded, arm and side.  The doctors wanted him kept still and unbothered.   Nevertheless the15,000 men of Adiutrix heard one of a dozen versions before the night\was over maybe none probably accurate.  But a whopping good story  is as good invented as true when told around a campfire. By two night’s time, every man of the Adiutrix , all of whom knew of their commanding S. Centurion, came to calling him “the General’s life.”  Over years of campaigns when the legions meet and troopers want a good story to tell, a story of heroes against the odds,  their own fighters smarter and stronger than any young general, this is a story worth the retelling.   S. Cornelius became a legend.


Trajan had been told immediately. It was soon enough S. Cornelius was offered promotion to praefector, tribune, indeed, legate if he wanted. Rome keeps scrupulous records on each centurion’s history. S. Cornelius might then and there have become a special history. That did not  happen, at least then. When re-crossing the Rhine, S. Cornelius approached his Emperor, Trajan. Someone had told S. Cornelius the tale going around. S. Cornelius stated simply to Trajan ,’General, and Imperator, nothing consequential involving me happened that day against the Samartians.  It was Hadrian who was the hero.  I’d appreciate it if there were nothing further in the records’ ”


Trajan, even then with an eye on his nephew as imperial heir, understood, would probably have seen to the official record’s silence anyway.  Such modest conduct was however by no means forgotten.  S. Cornelius was honored for his modesty, but also viewed as quite eccentric in rejecting promotions all the promotions offered, ones that any other man in the Empire would have eagerly accepted.  He did allow himself to be appointed Senior Centurion for the legion. an immensely responsible and highly dangerous post.  The senior was the general’s tactician in the midst of battle, ultimate protector with his life of legion standards, thus the legion’s own honor and reputation, as well as protector of any close imperial relatives sent to fight when they had yet to shave. Later Cornelius was transferred to Legion I Minerva, newly formed, and commanded by Hadrian in 105-106. It fought the successful war in Moesia, which annexed Dacia.  Later Trajan transferred him so as to be Trajan’s own senior centurion when Trajan raised his own Legion II Trajana.  Trajan took II Trajana with him for his first and second Parthian campaigns. If ever men loved their immediate commander, but through it all no one understood this taciturn man.”


The Bishop went on,  “I wasn’t interested in hearing soldier’s tales, every winning army invents its heroes just as every losing one invents its scapegoats, but in any event this Cornelius distinguished himself, seems still to do so, and in the Roman army, best the world has ever seen, that is something indeed. The whole army is spectacular.   Now in Parthia he’ll be attached directly to Trajan which, among other things, means he’s personally responsible for defending the emperor. But then, it would appear he’s been doing that for some time.”


I gave my Bishop a puzzled look. He was fighting a Christian war against false prophets, a general moral war against Satan, , nothing Roman in any of it. Where, where, was all this possibly going?  


“Yes, yes, relevance” he was annoyed now, that was my gift, to annoy him.    He went on deliberately speaking more slowly. It was his turn to annoy me, but then it was his turn to do that.

 

“Thus S. Cornelius has consistently turned down promotions, prefect. Praetor, who knows what else, all of which is quite odd since all Romans want power and status maximus.  I stress the point; S. Cornelius does not seem ambitious. He rejects power.   Also, our brother’s story, S. Cornelius will be leaving the Army at the end of the Parthian campaign to join the civil service.  That’s normal enough for a man in his late forties or early fifties, which Cornelius is.   I trust such gossip since armies in permanent camp such as Antioch are, after all their years together,  like family and well informed. Rumour has it that S. Cornelius will stay on in Syria now that Hadrian is pro tem Governor.”


I’m too dense even to make a wild guess as to where the Bishop was taking himself on this later-life  journey of S. Cornelius. That’s another thing that annoys the Bishop, my being dense.  But who else would put up with him but someone “stupidus” like me? 


The Bishop was barely tolerating me, well, that was mutual.  He droned on,


“None of this matters of course…”


I couldn’t help it; I interrupted his Dominance, “ Then why in heaven…”


He shut me up with an hardly brotherly -loving growl  “May the Lord roast your innards, Luke, let me get on with this, and be sure you have notes on what I’ve told you about Cornelius!”

My notes, oh, I had been assiduous enough writing what he thought were those, but in fact were pages of a letter to my brother in Barbalissos on the Euphrates.  Well, if the Bishop turned out to have anything worth writing down, I could recall most of it; my memory was better than  my patience.  I smiled at my Bishop, a greasy smile. I would have hated to have seen it. You see,  I do my best to be a good Christian, but the “other cheek …” part isn’t easy. When I behave as the Bishop wants showing the good nature I don’t necessarily have, it’s out of cowardice, not love. 


“Of course, your Excellent Grace, my Bishop and Dominus, of course.”  I went on diligently to scribble another line to my brother; he was due here for a visit in a few weeks.  If he could salt and bring some good Euphrates white fish…that would be dandy, I wrote.


The Bishop, mollified by my respectfulness, continued, “ The final point, not only is S. Cornelius well-connected, impressive, eccentric in avoiding power but, our brother’s brother in his legion says Cornelius is peculiar..  He looks unhappy, puzzled, troubled, and yet he has the world at his fingertips if he wants it. It seems he does not want that world.  If that is it, we cannot tell at this juncture, yet  if there is in fact an uncorrupted dissatisfied world- rejecting Roman there, we may have something for us here instead. Christ is waiting. He welcomes everyone, especially a stranger such as a Roman aristocrat.”   The Bishop was contemplative. 


I. this lowly Luke, speculate about the relationship of fantasy to religion. If they are the same, then the latter, more respectable, in being, begins to support priests, bishops, architects, weavers, parchment makers, silversmiths, and occasional good wine,  and, although I’ve not yet heard of kings, palaces and armies, although that too will happen, these expensive institutions. Lots of good jobs, I say.  Here’s something that philosophers don’t think about, proof that people  need our fantasies, their trappings and edifices every bit as much as common sense.  One man’s irrational is another’s necessity. I take that to be one rule of the world.


And so now, my Bishop, reading a Roman mind he’s never met, this one a culture apart- for as far as I can tell Syrians and Italians have absolutely nothing in common except sweating and pissing- basing his “facts” on rumours of an army’s camp, one where I suspect at least half of the men are drunk half of the time, further, basing his guesses about one man on one or two looks by a Syrian peasant legionnaire about whom this Bishop knows nothing in fact, all of it channeled through a totally different Christian brethren. For my Bishop, this kind of stuff constitutes near-fact.  The stories we hear in the assembly are but grander instances of such reliance. Perhaps there are multiple worlds, ours daily, the one of magic and the lower gods, the Other where the One, God, reigns and creates,  and one where each of us wander, even guided by our dreams, fantasies and intuitions.  I count myself the more stupid that I am inclined sometimes to trust this Bishop , for-I have not divined its nature-he has at times shown strange gifts. . 


My Bishop lives in the middle of fantasy and religion. At this moment they are joined. Shall I be skeptical, for I suspect he thinks he’s going telepathically to convert a Roman nobleman , one who enjoys the esteem of emperors. Does my Bishop really imagine himself influencing this particular hero, no matter his odd facial expression, -I’ll wager it’s a sword wound- to become Christian, giving up all his respect and prerequisites to join what the Roman ruling class consider a despicable, foreign, superstitious, i debased. plebian, cowardly, literally self sacrificing even if they don’t believe all the stories about our eating our babies or having orgies with our mothers, us Christians so revolting to the Romans, we the lowly whom they think are a Jewish Oriental cult and maybe treasonous to boot.  Those were my thoughts, but since I am a practical, respectful hypocrite, what I said to my Bishop was,   

 

“I salute you, Excellency. Dominus, Brilliant.  I am sure you’re on to something. Now what’s to be done next”?


“We wait for Cornelius return from Parthia.  See what post he has in the palace. Find a reason to approach him.  I have a sense of what he is in my mind, a vision, yes, I think it is a vision divinely sent. God will see to the outcome. In the meantime if you have any contacts at all in the palace or the legions, see what you can learn about S. Cornelius”

At moments of these, arises kind of apoplexy of the reason where words stumble.  “Yes, if course” I replied, tripping over my tongue, for I remain stupidus.  I scribbled more on my recording parchment, finishing the letter to my brother. I turned my eyes up to the Bishop, using the word in my vocabulary, that always works to annoy the Bishop. I asked, “Why?ZZZ”


Some parents like their retarded children, others destroy them, sell them. I could see the Bishop was in the lesser loving camp.   He spoke softly, as those louder words might bounce off and not be heard,


 “ Because, Luke, we need a hero, a skilled administrator, a new kind of man, a great man of this world whom Romans respect, a very Scipio to lead this faith, be it against or with Rome I cannot say. I will not be here always, indeed not so long at all….”


I interrupted,  “But you’ve appointed Hero to follow you” it wasn’t protest, I didn’t give a hoot about Hero, a pleasant, faithful, genuine simpering whatever of a man.  The “whatever” tells you I have some doubt as to gender nature versus essence here..


“Yes, and follow me he will, but a good coach recruits his athletes as early as he can, or, laterally, from those already proven.  Someone will follow Heron, his name by the way is that, not ‘Hero’”.


Again I interrupted, “Well, it’s hardly for me to say…

My Bishop interrupted saying firmly  “It’s absolutely not for you to say”


He was right. I would do as my Bishop commanded.  I would ask the next group of soldiers passing by on police duty if they knew S. Cornelius.  My duty then done, the rest was up to his visions. 


The one thing I did not include in my summary of ruling Roman opinion adverse to us, again ever so wrongly detrimental, that is blame for the last earthquake.  A few months ago, in mid December, one of the greatest earthquakes ever to hit Antioch, and to say that is to accord historical superlatives, struck. Romans are reasonably good on numbers so one can say that by their count 10% of the city population, which is to say 50,000 including slaves, were dead. Even now  three months later, there is a lingering stench of the dead, for they are there under the thousands of tumbled buildings.  Restoration is slow work. The Romans are indifferent to any but the public places and buildings. For survivors winter was cruel outdoors. Large numbers died.  Happily our Christian house is strongly built, as are the palace and other expensive homes where architects use cement and timbers to reinforce, not just pile bricks and stones in tiers that easily tumble.  The Emperor Trajan was given some miraculous supernatural escort out of his room at the palace, likewise was Hadrian saved by the gods, so they say.  Since the palace had little structural damage, no one there was much hurt,  it is just one more of those the- gods-love-emperors stories.  For a week of after, the entire government camped in the arena, a coliseum of sorts. One Consul, M. Pedo Virgilianus, was in fact killed, but not in the palace, he was taking his morning walk down the Street of Herod and Trajan when a piece of its ceiling dropped him.  


Immediately upon the shaking ceased, with so few Romans even hurt, no troops hurt because they were in their all-wooden barracks in the permanent camps just out of town,  (A well nailed or mitered wooden building, as a coherent structure, holds well during earthquakes, as long as it has strong foundation.)  Trajan ordered built a temple in Daphne in gratitude to Jupiter/Zeus the Savior (Soter).  Daphne itself was remarkably undamaged.   


Now,  the evil story is that we Christians caused it because the gods hate Antioch for our being here. The earthquake was divine rage at our presence. A good thing not many locals believe it. As for Romans, they believe anything, but don’t take much of anything of that sort seriously. The typical local villain is Neptune/Poseidon who’s been at the earthquake-causing business since ancient Greece.. As for Christians being to blame,  there’s another version. I got a letter of condolences from a fellow deacon in Ikonium saying they were all upset to hear that Trajan condemned Ignatius to die as a martyr for sending the earthquake. The bishop said he didn’t think Ignatius would do a thing like that. As for the story, well Trajan has not condemned my Bishop, so there’s more nonsense, some of it we seem to entertain ourselves, at least in Ikonium. I myself would not be surprised if my Bishop called on God to right some wrongs quite dramatically, even vengefully,  but no, not earthquakes.  He’s not that powerful a magician. Well, I hope not.


So much for slander. Tyche sweet girl that she is, also wrongly comes in for some of the blame.  Memories of powers ripple out even from her, since she is not forgotten as motherhood and earth deity, once a Titan of the females. Tame now, a singer,  she would not even pretend to temblors. No, earthquakes have been here long before us Christians.  There’s no great likelihood locals would blame the last one on some priest of whom they’ve never heard, some god of whom they’ve never heard, some” Christiana;” groups around here when most locals have never heard the word “Christian”.  It also assumes that a story about an unimportant bunch of disagreeing faith would “go around”. Hard to do when, but for kitchen Greek and bog, Latin, people in this town all speak different languages. They keep their distance, one tribe from another,  but when in the markets or walking on the main streets. 


We are not a congenial city.  The disputing Christian assemblies; Gnostics, Jewish, Nicolaitans, wild libertines toasting Christ with drunken orgies, other Docetists with their phantom immaterial Christ, and sundry others, as Polycarp calls them, ‘first borns of Satan’ . Few enough then of us “mainstream” as we optimistically think we are.  In any event, hard to make a story go around when we don’t talk to the others.  However, look at any bishop and you see we talk constantly about ourselves, exaggerate mightily to make ourselves seem important, even to the point where, look at it and you see the Ikonium letter didn’t say Ignatius couldn’t have done it, those earthquakes. It’s kind of flattering.


That’s the whole thing about this earthquake story, I’ve checked it out in the marketplace and no one there’s heard it.  Members here who know Romans say there’s no such talk among such as the soldiers or the slaves. So much for that then. So here we are, the Christian year 116, listening to His Importance talk away, while the church up in Ikonium thinks he’s off being hyena feed in Rome. Nonsense, we may have our troubles but Romans condemning bishops here is not one of them.   It’s an insult to Trajan who is a  reasonable man, hates superstition, himself decreed slander of Christians gets the slanderer arrested. Trajan is no Nero bent on excuses for causing horrors, which brought sick delight to his own maliciously malformed nature. Now there, that Nero, was an evil man.


 I suspect Trajan’s view of earthquakes is like mine, earth has her own strains as do humans, and as with us, her responses can be violent. Only nature is required for those kinds of events. The causes for most that goes wrong, as with us, are in our nature.  As with ourselves, the earth is an ill formed place, has its opposing humours, perhaps is always uneasy within her. Much of nature is indifferent. Of course there are many separate powers,  but most are not willfully animated and responsive. Think of a tree or a waterfall.   Be that so, when we are shocked that a few locals say we caused the earthquakes, there is some bizarre pleasure in that, for if they believe it, then our power is exaggerated. Perhaps we should not even give God total credit for what goes on. 


I say it is quite enough God attend to us and we to him.  Why should we ask of him other miracles when he offers us three already so contrary to nature?  Only a fool asks for too much.  I don’t want a magician God nor a Jesus necromancer.  Their greatness is not in showmanship or manipulation, although I know those road show preachers with their shouting, sometimes in a couple of tongues at once, none being tied as maybe they should, they rely on needy folk being be impressed by tall stories.  When your God is taller than the heavens, when he comes becoming Jesus the man and sacrifice, whose reach is to every now forever heart, it is undignified to dress such a God in tinsel, sequins and trinkets.  


Think of what we have.  That He exists at all and in doing so cares for us actually knows and loves us. That we who were of no consequence learn that we are of some matter, so that a poor Luke such as myself says” miracle”. There’s wonder enough. I’ll have no trick inviting applause, no entertainments, no Indian juggling balls behind his back with his feet. Words are not essences. The truth is in our being, the being open to receive the Other.   A stupid Luke cannot make words dance about.  I only feel, I only know. Believing had best be about hearty stuff.  I say it is the “being” that matters; happens in worship, in the music, to us in prayer.  Feel the Presence.  It is totality of oneself immersed, joyful.  We become a baby’s smile.


Now as the second essence greater than charlatan’s stories of trees growing upside down or fish with three heads disagreeing with one another, is that by his design the larger part of our being is love, or in believing in him we become more loving.  The truth of that is here in this Assembly.  We actually are good people, well, mostly, and  loving. Me not so much,  I pretend no sweet perfection, but around here I behave better, smile at others, curse less, and am grateful. I call that a gift.  


Now the third point of the real miracle. Granted,  no proof in a  promise and I would be more convinced if I had heard it from the Teacher’s own lips, that after death we may be as we are now, alive and physical, sentient, but free of pain.   I confess it,for  this Luke it is not important to live too long. “Eternity” is a long time to a man who has, footsore trudged many miles in old sandals.  I will allow myself the dream of it; sandals that do not wear out because the road is smooth, level,  and there are no bandits or scorpions. I want that after-life because there are so many people I have loved who are gone, so many I love now that I miss already, knowing I will myself soon be gone. I want to enjoy my  good wife, those lovely children, my friends, forever. Just as the Bishop preaches, we are incomplete without one another and the One.   Even so, as I have said before, if I am allowed this present life be good; be in loving community, that is already enough. This Luke of me, for I am such a small and ugly fellow, is not worthy enough to enjoy more.


Please, I claim no such plain simple thoughts as special. I am too stupid to reach deep conclusions. I am grateful to be taught. I am a pack rat that scurries along looking for shiny pieces of knowledge to carry home to my nest. A Greek philosopher by the Forum, I worked in a stall there when I first came to town, explained to me that the universe, even if caused by the One, gets along quite well on its own with the energies that are its nature expressed.  He said he himself learned that from long ago Greeks he called mathematical, material and speculative philosophers of nature, thus natural philophers  He said they enjoyed the Olympian gods as comic theater, but in serious matters they discussed and invented proofs of reason, tested explanations for logic and practicality, looked at the material world to see what regularities, relationships, elements fixed or in motion might be inferred, then weighed their proofs in discussions with other bright, open, intelligent men. .  


Their point, thus my mind’s helper near the Forum, said that to assume that the invisible is peopled with gods rather like us, is to make its understanding impossible, for if willfully animated everywhere unseen, but incapable of our knowing those wills, we will never understand anything, not earthquake, storm, flood, mind or bodies. More than that, if we make that wrong assumption, we waste time cajoling, bribing, tricking gods, demons who are not there. We exaggerate to think that all and everywhere are, but perhaps for rocks and garbage, animating powers like ourselves, only more so.  The very idea of it cheats us out of discovering quite marvelous designs, by no means mimicking a human model. Besides, a world of invisible beings all milling about, pushing, pulling, farting, burping, pinching fannies, that makes my mind a jumble of disorder.  The Greek philosopher told me about Democritus’ then Diodorus Cronus under Aristotle, then Epicurus, all talking about atoms, space, movement, everything not really being there, but “there”, moving, not moving, oh my goodness. Then others, such as Pythagoras ‘mathematics, Euclid’s calculable steady relationships of shapes, planes, spheres.  I am stupid, but I knew I was in the presence of great and sensible ideas.


I can’t learn them, I face my stupidity again.  But for one thing I grasp, in it are explanations, and regularities, even the range of predictable irregularities, that allow me a sense of order.  It is in nature, but in my mind as orderly potential which is a soothing view. I am grateful that nature, in spite of earthquakes, has order to her.  I am more grateful when my mind is consoled by being told that sensible minds can discover it.  I have asked my God, and that philosopher mathematician, to pursue the gift of order, for there is no gift in willful spirits willy-nilly careening about.  It is the demonstration of order, which is reassuring, and curiosity as the means to learning about where more of it may be found, that the philosopher told me makes a healthy useful mind. My mind is not of that quality, but I am grateful for a God who generates order, and not a universe full of crickets in a box leaping all this way and that.  If any kind of demon is out there, and this stupid Luke cannot get away from that belief either, my life is in the twitching, buzzing, and jumping disorderly hands of crickets.  Pray God, deliver us from a world run by crickets.


So once again, wondering what at “atom” is and hoping it is no cricket. here I am again, quite the sloppy, suspect, Christian. One thing about the Bishop, he’s not one to throw an inferior fellow whose not very bright out on his ear because he’s sloppy on doctrine. The Bishop wants an orderly doctrine. He doesn’t count on me for that!  The Bishop cares about heart and unity. What bothers him are the other feisty fellows who are sure of the big items and the details, and have got them all dead wrong.  As for me, being Luke and, somewhat contradictorily,  Deacon. I do, mostly, what I’m told to do, lie to my wife only when necessary, feed my children, and try to be kind. 


In the presence of the Bishop, I recite what I can remember of what I’m supposed to believe.    For myself I believe what I want to, which, since I choose it, is really quite fine. For others, as long as they are also quiet about it, I think it should be the same, all that done of course within the gift and God that is this faith. There is an order to it, in the service, the music, and how I feel about being loved, multiplying that when I can. If I were bright enough to understand mathematics, I would,  like the Chaldeans also, look for o celestial order as well. Whether or not spirits are jumping about, those agitated immortal amoral crickets ruling lives, causing earthquakes, sickness, wars, true or not, none of that is any good at all. We do have regular directions possible in ourselves. We can be orderly in charity,  love, agape as kindness .  Unkindness is not foreordained, as Jesus or any loving mother shows us , it is the reverse. Allow then, there may be ordained much better before us.  The rub of it, we must be wise enough to select it.


Oh stupid Luke, I am entirely inconsistent. I write nonsense and believe it, both sides of it, for what I write disagrees with itself.  I must forgive myself and I do.

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