CHAPTER XV

Embarrassments 


I, LUKE, render this because I promised Balthus to provide all personal documents of, or revealing Ignatius the person. Mine are the latter. His circulating God-studying Letters and others Commentaries speak for themselves,  unless of course they are forged, as now everybody knows some were. A few people claim all of them bogus. That is not true. I suppose someday some clever fellow will say Ignatius never existed.. He was at a fever pitch  before that last journey, the sort of excitement that spurs even those who have difficulty with quill and parchment to write. A fact then about him, he had difficulty writing until the end, which he felt glorifying, was coming.    


I am ashamed of myself for what I played at, what you see that I have written of myself at that time. I was not nice, never a respectful Deacon, but I will not be sanctimonious, nor now for this Book, concealing. Squirrels and humans are alike in some ways;  chattering, stuffing our cheeks, and yes, I told you I am fat.  My cheeks look like a squirrel’s with wonderful pistachios puffing them out.  And we share the business of hiding things away. I had hidden my lesser self in my own journal of that time, as Nourani, on fire, hid his. Now I am plagued with my promise to be frank, I will not lie as much as usual.. 


Sometimes I just have to argue lightly, for all this business of assmblies and God is so dreadfully serious. If God can’t laugh we are all in real trouble.  If he can’t laugh he’s in the most trouble of all. The Romans are humorless. I say if I fellow  can’t laugh, why live?  That’s how I excuse myself anyway.  If I catch the Bishop just right, perhaps get him to smile,  I’m a bit more in charge. There’s fellowship in a chuckle.


My notes, those ones I have kept to myself, show it was the year 116, before the troubles of 117 occurred.


The Bishop called me, “Luke, I have heard news which needs another ear for its consideration”


“Yes, Dominatus,  I listen”  I play respectful, shine him off a bit.  He likes that. But he pretended to be annoyed, saying,


 “Luke, call me not by that grand title, I am but your Bishop.”


I bowed my head.  He likes the bowing particularly, although Dominatus, “absolute ruler”, has nice ring to it. naturally he is obliged, greatly contented by it, to half-decline my extravagant usage,


“Yes, Dominor dominating by excellence in the will of God,”


Ignatius was soothed, nodded and said his head approvingly,  “That’s better,  heron, true servant to the church. You have to know an “heron” is any assistant in the church, but also in any other god’s temple as well, a term probably in Greek use as long as acolytes, themselves as juniors in the priesthood of any god, have existed. You’d better remember your Greek, “heron” that you should be and others better than you are. 


I did not say that I well enough remember the boor on his mind named Heron favored  Ignatius as his eventual replacement, for I had seen him only the day before. Had it been two days, that meringue of a man might have been entirely forgotten. He has the impact of a dust poof blown by a soft breeze touching the hide of an elephant.  Never mind, I would have a go at a piece of mischief,

 

 “Excellency, pray recognize I am not Heron, he is other and higher, he is the one chosen, one could say “ordained although not so”, to become Bishop in your place after you have left us for finer things.”


The Bishop interrupted irritably.  Can’t blame him, I was running on a bit

“Not ‘Heron,’ Luke, but (spelling it out) “heron” as in altar servant, the devoted one you should…”.


 I protested,  “Excuse me Dominor, yes, Heron is heron and might yet be a Bishop, a good man as I…”


The Bishop interrupted in greater irritation,


 I said ‘heron’ not referring to ‘Heron’ who is perfectly devoted. So don’t play with me, fool”


”Oh Dominor, there is only perfection in devotion, as you say,  but nevertheless Excellency please don’t say that.”


“What?”


“That you are a fool, no not so”


The Bishop flushed, rose from his throne next to the altar in the meeting hall. Let me say he is a large man, clean-shaven, portly, in his white toga with scarlet band, wearing the pointy spear-shaped hat of a Roman high priest.  His eyes really do shoot arrows at you.  Even if he is old now, he’s can be impressive. Now he was really angry.


“I am no fool!”


“Exactly, just as I said Excellency, no matter what you said.  Anyway and exactly, your well known huge modesty need not require of itself such self abnegation”


Ignatius voice went higher, louder, indeed much louder, “ Negation?  I negate nothing!”


I had to say it,  “Absolutely Dominor, I know that much of Latin and logic, having been around churchmen some time, so I must insist, all in perfect devotion, that negation as nothing cannot negate itself, for as nothing, its being non existence, it is powerless without any being at all, whereas negating nothing is likewise impossible, for there is nothing there to deny.  As  any mathematician knows, I know that much even though I know nothing, which of course we are discussing so that my knowing it qualifies me well, so to go on here then and obvious,  two of anything, including two ‘nothings’ do sum to something, for when added, I ask you count them as I have just done, the two are added so are two indeed.  So we have made something out of that, I daresay”  I paused, a little more than satisfied with myself.


Ignatius ears turned red, they are big ears too, really like beets when that red. He’s bald; his scalp was red too, under his pointy episcopal hat there was glowing desert sunset. He was scalding me with the heat of it now, 


“Luke, fool, “two is not two when you count nothings as you, as now I know you also a nothing should”


“Yes, Excellency, agreed, beside your eminence I count as nothing, but should I count, I deduce I cannot be nothing simply because I stand here, no, kneel….” Which I did, and so, kneeling before him, I continued, 


 “Because I stand here kneeling as I do,  and am material, which is to mean with substance, or as in arguments about the relationship of God and Christ, I am with substance thus I am consubstantial, and if consubstantial, then, I mean no blasphemy, Dominatus, but as to my nature then as the arguments go, I must be two, or, like you, I myself must also be too, and also yes of course Excellency, I do like you although not as you do, when you do err, however incontrovertibly, even so, denying controversy, I insist, I am proven two and too, for not only can I count but as I am counted two as con and substantial both. Pray my Grace, as further contention,  if I have spirit, and my wife does tell me when I bed her that I am quite spirited,  so I am two and with spirit added,  three which of course is a lucky number.  From that I conclude from where we began this, that nothing is lucky.”  I was in full gallop now, my hooves beating, I would not be stopped,


“As for the other aspect  Eminence,  I dare dispute with you on that, a nothing if a nothing indeed can have no  duties,  thus nothing cannot be commanded by ‘should’ for to do so by my logic an ill logic,  thus, as the Latin, ‘sic , or “thus” thusly  as I say, if ill then inflicted with sickness, thus a sick nothing if you like, thus “sic” bridging to nil. For  myself I do not like illness at all,  but how your Excellency might feel I cannot say, even so it is difficult to argue with Cicero who implied, in the ‘thusness’ of it, a sic-ness with complications.  Consider a ‘not’ and a ‘nothing’ which should add to double nothing, but not at all, as Latin has it clearly, “non nihil’ is not a nothing at all but, with Cicero as my proof,  and you know I quote correctly, that is ‘everything’.   Now I ask, is that not proof that we can all make ‘something’ out of ‘nothing? Which, I answer you immediately, is no less than to conjure?    


I would not be stopped even by this prince of the church waving his arms, the red of his bald sunset so radiant I shone in its rays Indeed, even though I spoke it badly, I conceded my logic well, however ill overwhelming. It its glory I had no intention of conceding him much, in fact, nothing, I had reached a brilliant climax, demanding of him, 


“Is it not, Excellency, not all quite fabulous, a magical tongue conjuring which is what clever languages provide, as here, in this Latin, where everyone knows ‘fabula’ is but ‘talk’, or if as you like it, a ‘story,’ thus, sic’  a thusness, out of some simple conversation here we have arrived at storied maxims. A contest of bishops could do no better, and ours here a good deal less bloody than those might become. (He knew I knew bishops can be an ill-tempered lot).


Ignatius was sweating, tiring.  My logic had worn him down.  He said, “Go, Luke, take your leave, for you are a fool of a “heron” but, Heron you are not,  logician of nothingness you count for that, as for’ consubstantial”, I have yet to hear of the term but for the Bishop of  Myletus arguing some months ago , and prematurely, for such a resolving conception, whereas no ‘nothing’ and “should” as you a know-nothing must know, none of this you are blabbering can be taken as substantial.  I give you leave to ponder that, indeed I insist on your leave.”


“Dominor, Excellence, It is but consubstantiating market talk in the Greek quarter, I take that to be the very essence of substantially unifying.  As for the rest, I cannot dispute your eloquence, for you have left me, not Heron I insist for he is another man, not a nothing I know because I know which nothing t and so cannot be a know- nothing, yourself no fool I insist although your logic does not deny all possibilities.  That nothing is lucky most would agree, whereas that something can be made out of nothing is entirely apparent, whereas that talk does magically conjure, well, we have just witnessed its proofs. My earlier doubts to which as heron I must be perfectly devoted, given these conclusions allow confidence in what quibbling  bishops in future council may conclude.”


 I paused before going on, victoriously spent without a nummus leaving my penny purse, for after all I had bested him in a very bishop-like exchange. I did say then,


“Excellency, I remain confused. Is it not the case, Eminence, in giving me my leave you offer me absence which is not a present, so is absent any such giving at all? My head swims so I must, perforce, leave you to rest, no, I mean I leave myself to be absent whereby I will find it hard to find my absent self, resting or not, although  I cannot rest if swimming in my head No, your Grace,  I will go lie down”


The Bishop for some reason quite beyond me looked very sad. No matter, I was in a triumphant way, for if ever there were a fool, it was I to undertake so simple a conversation with a bishop.  They are known, after all, as sophists   Even so, he was my Bishop, as he had himself said, a fool perhaps, but quite a decent fellow, only judgmental about himself, that mostly of a morning when he could look terrible—I suspected he drank too much evenings.  As for the possible martyrdom business, well he seemed quite pleased with himself about that, as if the lions were not soon to be even more pleased.  No thank you, I am sufficient Christian alive with no great interest in entering the afterlife down a lion’s gullet, if indeed that is any doorway at all.  If I were any architect for heaven, I would not make a beast’s fangs its columned propylaea, its vestibule or gateway. Hardly.  In bad taste I say, however much a lions taste for him disagrees.


Ignatius was not giving me my leave after all,  for he shouted for me to come back. Ah, the pains of a presbyter pestered by God’s authority in a bad temper.  I shuffled back to his throne, heard his voice shift its gears, like the weight of tightly nozzled water in a water clock moves the gears thus (sic) the hands about, and in the expensive clocks, rings bells as well.  Well, the bishop’s hands were moving but nothing I heard was music to my ears, and as for right time, whatever it was, was long past.  I admit it, I was becoming sullen.  To a victor over ill logic should come spoils, not to spoil my sleep. One thing about bishops, they don’t see when they are wrong. And they hurtle forward.  Ignatius was not as tired as I thought. He sneered at me a bit, but was no longer sad.  He gave me an order, saying,


“Luke, stay, we have business yet, I was going to tell you what I heard from a traveler down at our Orontes docks, near the Egyptian quarter, you know, where the embalmers have stalls, where they sell those lovely cats”


I thought to myself of some other lovely animals there, two legged ones quite good at dancing and delightfully perfumed.  My wife,  a liberated woman as far as temper goes,  had thrown pots at me when I came home smelling of one,  but proximity in a sweaty tavern where they dance, is unavoidable whereas the nature of the dance, the degree of proximity, are the very horizontal geometry predicting perspiration.  What happens in such a tavern depends on the size of the purse and the desire, whereas the size of the organ is but a function of the latter, and endowments.   I am myself small in that, but it is of no great matter, my organ is eager and athletic, does good service to all concerned, of whom there are many indeed.


 The Bishop preaches no harm in the flesh. He says it so unenthusiastically that I doubt his sincerity. I suspect he is quite the Syrian ascetic, fastidious to a fault, which I take his view of sexuality to be.  For myself, what is preached,  there is indeed harm in the flesh. Come home from a tavern reeking and otherwise suspect, and when my wife, she is a Parthian as wild as any Cretan and they are known for turbulence,  smells my breath and otherwise senses I have been up to,  or even wanted to be up to and wanting to be up for as well, well the bruises on me show the harm in and on the flesh.  I have been attacked just for wanting. I am a wanter, a talker, a drinker and a doer, whereas remorse is not too evident, but in lies.  These are not a constellation of vices meeting in a conjunction that appeases wives, as I am sure Chaldean astrologers early learned. I tell my wife the stars rule me. Throw pots a them if she wants to strike at causes. Illogical woman and deaf. In our house the life of a pottery is not long.


In any event, I was tired; my mind was not attuned to Ignatius.  Nevertheless what he heard was near-reverential as, 


“Yes, Bishop”


He launched himself, appropriately enough with a sailor’s tale. I could hear the oars creaking; it was my tired neck, which tends to crepitate. 


 “I have met here in Antioch a trading man who frequents our port of Seleucid Pieria, typically sailing via here from Alexandria and on to Rome.  He knows of the Roman trading posts on the Indian coast where in one at least, Barbaricum, lives a Christian community of many thousands under King Gundaphar II whose father, hating God, hating Christ, steeped in barbarian ways, has plied the priests of Thomas with lies, women, drink.  Christians there have fallen into lax ways.  I know because this trading man here told me what an early Christian had seen and told him. That one was a merchant sailor carrying from India and farther East pepper, pearls, ivory, spices and other treasures.  As now, the route is from trading posts such as Indian Barbaricum to Oyasma across the Egyptian desert where, in turn, caravans cross to Alexandria and thence to ship again here and elsewhere in Our Sea.  


From those sailors the caravan traders heard tales of a people whose God had visited his people to open history, resurrection and heaven to them, people who pray to the one and only God and his Son Jesus.  That Thomas was their teacher, all agree. The Egyptian caravan leaders, learning from traders in Oyasma in turn told the grandfather of this sailor of Antioch what he but a few days ago recounted to me. But he, like all others was amazed to hear of the great Christian community in the East, heard also of its sorrows for its shepherds do not well tend their flocks


This sailor’s then, is indubitably a true story, for it rightly summons us to the assistance of Christians astray, a story undoubtedly whispered by God to us over these links of many years, those links of many tongues, so that we in Antioch, now the rightful capital of the church catholic and Christian, hear and may act upon them” He paused, turned to me,


What do you say to that, Luke?” 


I was not going to say much, for Ignatius was swelling pompous and wished of me but my likewise wonder at this wonder tale, this “fabula”.  Such swellings are, I have noted, a common disease of bishops.    My wonder was not as my Bishop wished, rather I marveled how Ignatius could be so sure of a sailor’s tale said two generations from begetting to delivery, carried in the bellies of ships and camels, born here by the wind, so to speak, so who could say whether or not the issue was malformed?   I know there are true great marvels in the East, giant beasts with gold horns on their noses, carpets that fly, gardens that hang from the sky, palaces made of diamonds and rubies, deserts so hot and dry that if a man enter at all he shrivels within seconds to become one more grain of sand, one grain among so many that no one knows which ones were once mortal. It is there great storms arise so dark and high that they reach and cover the side of the sun which shines on that part of the world. It is there the howling winds are cries of the dead or the terrible monsters of the desert hungry roaring hungry, ready for more travelers to learn what ravenous and frightful can really be.  


 All of this is common knowledge and unquestioned But to tell me a sailor’s story as spun for a credulous old bishop?  Such stories capsize on their launching as do sailors just out of a tavern trying to walk, for as a trade they are prone to far too much wine, indeed quickly prone from too much wine


“Well, Deacon Luke, what do you say to that?  I feel prompted to a great duty on behalf of the unity of the church upon which all member souls depend”


“As you say, Excellency, a great duty arising from the sailor’s mouth” I did not tell him he was likely swallowing a whale of a tale, just as the whale swallowed Jonah.” 


My old Bishop, as important to himself as any whale to Jonah, said,  “You understand what God means us to do, indeed Luke, you are well called after the Apostle Luke, a doctor, for in your way, as you post this proclamation inside our wall, you help heal the great community of Thomas. “


Obviously he had written it before our meeting.  No matter, a bishop once under way is like one of Hannibal’s elephants charging.  Get out of the way, wonder at so great a force of nature, and avoid stepping into that drops from his behind.  What could I say but, 


“Dominor, I will gladly see your announcement posted so that all who come here may read it, so the world will know.

Ignatius leaned back on his throne, satisfied.


I read it as I carried the placard from the room to post, 

 

“Ignatius Bishop of Antioch, Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia Felix, proclaim hereby the inclusion in our diocese: 

That bequest to the Lord by Apostle Thomas, India and all lands East   We do this for the unity of the church catholic, and for the salvation of the souls, members thereof.  The church is the body of Christ, being made of and generating his divine gift.   In its fellowship is the church, each one and every, in receiving that gift, binding it in worshipful community, is there found the way to eternal life.     


With respect to India, the dereliction of bishops there in keeping us all one community, the community of the One, as taught by Thomas, risks all souls gathered for life in and of the church.  We acknowledge our homage to Thomas, a great missionary sent by Christ himself. Like Jesus himself a carpenter, some say his other brother, this Apostle Thomas true advocate of the Lord our God.


As bishop in this see and capital I respond as I must to God’s will.   The bishopric, this diocese now by our love, care, and deep concern must embrace Thomas’ princedom, which extends to the very reach of the great Alexander, that East which Strabo was inspired to map so that all Christians could see the growing boundaries of Light, could see our future strength as Parthians, Kushans, Seres, see the light of God and come forward to be baptized into the Kingdom.  We are great in our faith, grateful to the Apostle Thomas, dutiful to Thomas’- founded congregations larger than any in Syria.  Glory to the Kingdom of God.  Glory to our Lord and Savior.  Glory to the words of God which over miles, continents and time were intended to, have called us to this further mission. Hear me now, know the Empire of the Lord is great both seen and unseen. Know I am your Bishop, oh unseen Lord of worlds visible and invisible 

.

I tell all you souls, oh brothers and sisters, as the church expands so does your own grace and power, God’s empire within you, God’s empire outside and everywhere.  I Ignatius who will soon be by God’s side, I today see you all in strength and glory, As it should be and will be forever and ever.”


I was of mixed minds about my Bishop, but then he was a mixed man.  He was bent on doing what a good bishop does, caring for the assembly, even as far away as India and, if anyone knew where they were, the Seres.  He annoys me of course, bishops have that knack, talks far too much, is either too pleased or too displeased with himself.  He doesn’t know I’ve seen him shortly after dawn, looking like cats dragged him in.  I wonder if of a night he goes to brothels?   No matter, mortals cannot deny the appetites God gives us.  The bishop’s dedication to God, thinking deeply on matters of faith, keeping all the little assemblies together as a bonded community, are marvelous.  As bishop that’s what count.  It’s just that, well, I wish any of us knew where this Thomasian empire might really be.  It would also be fine, when this Bishop is not being entirely imperial, if he paid more attention to people, even liked them.  

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