Clandestine in the Assembly
To: S. Cornelius, a report, with recommendations, of an investigatory visit to the Peter-Ignatius Christian assembly, now presided over by Bishop Heron. Date: June, 862 u.c. (CE 125)
The assembly meets in a huge house, unexpectedly elegant and impressive. The members say that a Jew named Peter, who was a servant of Jesus whom they call Christ, founded the church in Antioch. Early on, this Peter converted a rich Syrian merchant who took the name “Theophilos” (friend of God). While he lived Theophilos invited the small group of Peter followers to meet there. Upon his death his testament provided it be given to that assembly It must be the richest house for Christians anywhere. It is exceedingly well built, for it withstood the terrible earthquake of 115, albeit with some of its facing requiring restoration. While the Christians call it only an assembly, a few have proposed “the Lord’s house” which, I gather, reflects some slight difference as to focus, whether more a fellowship or, as with Ignatius monarchical views, more socially stratified. Neighbors also call it “the Christian synagogue” There is no great dispute about names, all in his assembly accept they are “Christians” although some insist on “Jewish Christians”. Those who said they were “Gnostic Christians” have, I have been told, entirely separated. Some here call them “the Thomas people” after one of the disciples of Jesus, their founding teacher and now, some but not all say, their god himself come to earth and crucified as intentional sacrifice to relieve them of their “sins” for all time. “Sin” I am told is more a focus of the Paul people than others. You will see, Sir that on these points there are potentials for further dispute.
You will remember Bishop Ignatius who visited you as you took office, just as I arrived in Antioch to serve under you. Bishops are the managers of what goes on, whether or not an high priest depends on the nature of the assembly. Ignatius believed in concentrating power in himself, a more Roman model. I am told the assembly these days is mostly run by a council, the Seven Elders. Their history has it that Peter appointed one Evodius bishop, the members next elected Ignatius, (although some argue it was another “apostle” named Paul who appointed him). Following that, Ignatius’ ill recorded, and I have earlier said “suspicious” martyrdom, the members elected Heron who now presides. I gather other bishops of the Asian Hellenic cities also must approve who becomes bishop. As for Heron doesn’t hold a candle to Ignatius by way of dress, command or sophistication. Pleasant enough, but no man inside the robes.
As for the house, it was built in the reign of Vitellus. Theophilos could afford a good address in the Syrian quarter, not too far from the Jewish one, but higher on Mt. Silpius with a view over the city and valley. Its street, no street here has a name but everyone knows “Theo’s house”, The street is perpendicular to the Promenade of Herod and Trajan. So as to have a better view there are balconies on the northwesterly side, and, I have not seen one before, a roof garden. The history- minded member, who was eager to talk to me, for I allowed I was a retired legionnaire interested in the faith, told me Theophilos was an owner of caravans and ships.
Upon your instruction, I went in disguise, for you were clear that by no means did we want it known that there was any special palace interest. In our discussion of the visit, Sir, you were explicit that we give no Christian a further opportunity to make a drama of himself, herself, as they might by confronting an official from the palace. The Emperor is clear that he wishes no unnecessary martyrdoms in his reign, much as Trajan felt, although not quite so fastidiously. I am sure they will occur. The hope is infrequently. As you know we have an excellent wardrobe for spies in the palace, from beggar to brigadier, char woman to charioteer, whatever the situation requires. Since some provincial legionnaires have become Christian, I thought that simple enough, and no way in that guise could there be questions I could not answer from direct experience. That is a rule of spies, for I have by played the game from time to time, to be as simple as possible or, if it must be elaborate, so grandly embellished the costume and story that no one could imagine anyone making it up. Fraud trumps truth much of the time in any event.
The meeting room was lit by candles, no bright torches. The formal meeting included a pre-dinner mock sacrifice, wine as blood, bread as body of their Jesus now called Christ founder, then a real meal, As for the formal ritual, Heron served, an Elder assisted. They made quite much of it, murmurings and incantations. I was told it was not simply in memory of what they termed the “last supper” of the one they call Christ, but they believe the magic of it actually incorporates that god into them. I know of cannibals south of Egypt who eat the hearts of enemies killed in battle, a tribute because the diner’s own heart becomes that of his brave enemy as well. The Christians o do no harm in their ceremony, so I call it “devotional cannibalism”.
As for the real meal, all of us seated around a number of tables, reasonably well trained slaves serving. It was not Apicius but not bad; roasted goat marinated in mint, vinegar and cardamom, a thick just baked Syrian bread with olive oil and a rich red vinegar for dipping it, seasoned chick peas cream sauce, potatoes in spinach, wine cooked turnips in cumin sauce, fern roots and beets with almonds, cabbage seasoned in garlic, hot peppers and vinegar, sweetened fruits touched with ginger and elecampane root for desert. Their cook slaves do a reasonable job. Their taste in wine, however, is miserable It was so bad I left thirsty.
The floor of the large meeting hall itself—I did not see the rest of the house- is a curious mosaic tile, surrounded by patterned tiles, then carpets placed about. The mosaic is traditional against the evil eye, but this one was elaborate artistry; a scorpion, a centipede, dogs barking at it, several flute playing Pan figures dancing. There were some Syrian copies of Phoenician glass vases, tall, iris shaped at the top, transparent, of the sort Antioch manufactures and ships across the Empire. I had not seen many this well done. Obviously “Theo” had been quite rich.
The music appealed even to my soldier’s tin ear accustomed only to loud horn and drumbeat as marching fare. Most members of the assembly played. It seemed it was an encouraged, maybe even taught there. There were two, cithara, (not the usual four strings but this with twelve),an oboe, a water organ, a three piped horn flute fingered with keys, perhaps valves to be pressed—I had never seen its like before but then Romans are not much for music, us north Germans less so, and solders least, for it is considered effeminate. There was also a muted trumpet, a soft cymbal and an oriental tambourine of the sort brought here from east of Persia by those musicians who will come to your house to play for money, bringing and offering whatever it is you might like- girls or boys, as pricy accompaniment with them. I have had the reports; while you play and they play, whatever is valuable in your house walks away! Not here in the assembly though, hardly, they are their own musicians and, as you know from all reports, the most honest folk in Antioch.
Altogether, the mood at the meal was friendly and, further, no one got drunk. These people were enjoying companionship with, they all seemed aware of what they said was God in the room there with them They asked me, “Don’t you sense him?” I had to say I thought I might. Truth is there was something special to it all, but I saw no gods or God.
I confess it did make me think about what a good religion might be. I am no connoisseur but this one seemed alright, but for me, not believing in anything, I would want more grand entertainments, although here the music, the incense, the sound of it when they all prayed out loud together almost sent a chill down my spine. The Romans are great at those grand rituals before their gods in Rome, but I’m not entertained a bit. Those rites are almost military. I suppose one has to feel something mysterious, beyond oneself. My German farmer father had some sense of that, however solid he was, smelling of plowing, plants, our barn and its animals. My father was the earth, not simply using it, his religion was with the trees, the rain, the sun, the soil, not make believe stone statues signifying empires. We did held the tree spirits sacred. His religion was one with the earth, nature, himself, together, the spirits of the forest and the legends of the northern gods and the River Rhine There was no music in any of it, and the gods were fierce, no goodness in them. As a kid I was afraid of them all, but for maybe one old tree which was friendly to me. The priests said its spirit and I were in touch. Then one day lightening took it down, “it had angered Thor” the priest told me. That did it No lightening gods for me. I walked away from it, not that I can get over the spooky feeling from time to time.
There was nothing spooky about the Christians. They weren’t worried about lightening, Heron read a bit, talked a bit, as did the Elders—one gentle old fellow, Joseph, impressed me the most- talked of Heaven, eternal life, how they had to love their God and one another. Nonsense probably, but nice, heart-warming, and believing it had made them, better and happier people.
Mostly I sat, taking it in, asking what I had to, but appreciating what I could. The, sun setting sun rays came rainbowing through glass vases set on floors beneath tall east windows, the un-figured tapestry finely loomed with gold thread in it was almost glowing, The people were kind to one another, kind to me. There was no suspicion. If I had been a better man I might have felt ashamed of myself. These people had their children with them, these were families almost all The children held on to their parent’s hands, some bounced about a bit, none screamed, it was a pleasant, peaceful place..
The grown-ups were filled with something- what I cannot imagine, - that moved them. What it was, where its source was, if anything beyond what they believe, I had no idea. Herons, Joseph’s, the quite somber sacrifice with Heron and one young fellow all in white officiating, music, praying out loud and silently together, it made for a mood. I paid no attention to the words themselves. I’m happy to report no demons, no lunacy, no pretending, and no conspiracies. I have reported that the food was okay, someone here obviously has money to pay for it. I compared it all to a typical Roman banquet, one of those noisy, drunken, all night affairs, with those fat belching farting swilling greasy faced, sticky fingered, onion breathed, bring-me-that-slut-over there and covering- her -right –there- on- the- couch, nobody bothering to notice since they were all doing it, all gluttony, all lust and not a kind word to be heard. Any god present? Obviously Bacchus and he had to be drunk to put up with it.
I don’ t know. I don’t know my own sentiments; at one remarkable moment I did feel something special. I drifted around, tried to understand their minds. While together they are truly in a world not Roman. There’s no Jewish rebellion here. They already have what they want, or as they say, what their god has given them. Heron talked of their Jesus. spoke of the other world and of this, of god, Jesus, and themselves somehow joined. It is a novel perspective, and for them optimistic. As for their “reincarnation”, I gave up trying to comprehend. Their god talk is beyond me.
Beyond the religion of it , without which there is no essence, , they really want people to be good to one another and respect the god who demands it in the name of love. This general sense is central to it all; love their enemies as well. Now, that is a bit to ask, for myself I rather enjoy severing an enemy’s head, there’s a satisfying sound and finality to it, I like the way my sword vibrates in my hand. I grant as their policy it’s good for the Empire.. This Christianity then, insofar as we can get them away from confrontations, teach them the ordinary hypocrisy of an occasional public reverence to the Roman gods, and on our side thereby dispense with the costs of worry and surveillance, well, it ought to work.
Roman policy should encourage the Christians to pacify, convert, those rebellious Jews. Pay them to do it. I recommend we watch the fringe elements, not for threats to Rome but crime itself. There have been those rare reports of Christians south of here engaging in infant cannibalism, incestuous sex wilder than Trimalcho could imagine, or even the mad emperors try. When it’s illegal we crucify the Christians for it, quite simple. Otherwise, Rome can tolerate one more god, a lovcing one. Venus exalted and adding agape to her charms, but that is not enough. A shame Latin has no word for love. Perhaps events will introduce it.
An army of loving soldiers is ridiculous on its face, but we can afford a few of them easing into Christianity as long as they don’t take it too seriously. It is fine if they take to drinking less, only mock our Olympians privately, and look forward to eternal life. A soldier who doesn’t mind getting killed is an asset. But he has to be willing to kill, and so far the Christians aren’t good at that. We certainly couldn’t afford an army of them, if the barbarians on the east, from Parthia, to the Danube to the Rhine, and to north of the Pontus Euxinus, act up, or get pushed from behind for territory. It is imperative that we neuter any extremist Christianity that would make pacifists out of Romans. By all means when there are enough Christians, encourage their evangelical missions to every barbarian land on our frontiers where they make pacifism the thing. Pay for evangelists, pay for converts, but keep Christianity muted among the troops. Otherwise Sir, the danger of Christianity to Rome is that if it spreads to the troops without mutation, Rome cannot protect itself from the barbarians. That it will spread, I have no doubt. It is an appealing religion. The political task is to pull its teeth when it comes to warfare. As the Jews have made compact with Yahweh, happily not the great warrior they thought he was, let this God become the fighter on our side, or, if we find this God truly fierce some, we on his.
Sir, I am enjoying thinking about this too much. I am going to write more, which may bore you. So, lest there be some inverse relationship between the pleasure my own words give me, and their attraction to others, I will myself write in smaller letters, whispering so to speak, the easier for you to skip. Not that I recommend you do, for I treat us to some pithy thought about Christians, Empire, and human nature.
Moreover, Sir, herein I put thought to appeals, dangers, likelihoods, no doubt opportunities, although I myself cannot yet envision them exactly. I go back and forth in my mind, on it, for I lack certainty of the sort on which Christians insist. Even so, there is a policy for Rome in here somewhere, Sir, and so needs-be perhaps for you to find and form it , for it is a man like you who has the wit and character to shape Empire. Or at least to dream of shapes to come. No harm meant by that, Sir, please understand, for dreamers with muscles and friends draw the very boundaries of empires and are the architects of capitols; think of Alexander, Sir, or for that matter, Xerxes. In my view Jesus, at least as people are writing of him now, was, so portrayed, a grand imperialist; he saw limitless empire, limitless ruler and limitless life. The best of engineers, he conceived it already waiting and no muscle or energy at all, but those of the mouth that shape prayers, to realize it.
Meek these people are now, and loving is their God. Nevertheless, a fiercer Christian god must be foreseen, for it is human nature to arm their central deities. In turn, any god intending importance, enjoying- as with Homer’s Zeus hecatombs sacrificed to his eager senses, will know his duties. This new Christian sect drinks the blood of its founding Jesus, eats his body as a sacred ceremony, shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping itself a bit brutal. In the long run, Sir, I can’t imagine a god loving enough to keep humans loving; some maybe, the gentler ones I suppose, but who protects those gentle from those predatory?
In my view Sir, most humans are not born to be good. I suspect that in the assembly here the very kindest humans, a small group, self selected for the rigors of faith and decency. The faith is appealing , Sir, and will grow, yes, count on that. It is bound to attract large numbers of others, rather as the Hebrews attracted converts who enjoyed the merchant advantages, and the mutual care, of the tribe.. If it could possibly be true that the Christians are right, that there is an high god of agape love- not simply our sexy Venus grown testicles and a beard, he will become sorely disappointed. I know their lore, that now is a time of testing and at some point in time the god as Christ comes back to sort the good from the bad, with the bad being dumped into hell. Hell will be a populated place!. Love disappointed, Christians cannot but have an angry god one day, the Jews have it right. Humans invite irritation. Their best chance, that judging god will be so disgusted, all that love, and warning, wasted, that. he’ll just pull up his tent stakes and disappear. Try again some centuries later, perhaps.
It would seem to me, Sir, that the Christians themselves as they expand are their own worst threat, for their god, like any unsuccessful lover, sooner or later must gives up. Exhortations, gifts, none of it works, I’ve seen that myself, as no doubt, Sir, have you. A loving god will have a bad conscience sending so many to Hell out of his own impatience His better policy, as with Hadrian assessing the Parthians, and concluding the lot of them are too treacherous and savage to be worth having within the boundaries of Empire, drew our Cast them all out, that’s it, maybe return to the Jews who are at least sensible about how much a top god can put up with in his folk.. And so, Sir, if Rome is to have a Christian policy which gives an iota of credence to their story, that there is such a god as we all might hope for, I would say we encourage their priests not to change one hopeful line of their pitch, do what they are doing, recruit more and more people, necessarily more and more ordinary slobs, until the mess of them so fail their god, that Rome itself steps in to appoint and train their priests, behind the scenes of course but silver in the palm will see to that. As the smarter Christians come to see they are, most of them, due for Hell come Judgment Day, our lads, with theirs, pour on the save-yourself, be meek and contrite message. Let them grind themselves down. Reward it, Sir, Rome giving a special dole to every Christian who qualifies as meek. No martyrs, please, these people, if we show that we love them in their meekness, a generous atuned to further taming, as with your ancestor Gracchi, Sir, their subverted priests handing out the dole will do it. That “meekness” stuff is what slaves are made of, and just what keeps Empire rolling along. Why, we could have meekness contests in the arena, who is the most abjectly humble? Who loves taunts the most? Who will flagellate himself, or for that matter a winsome naked herself the most? Yes, bring on the whips for do-it-yourself Christian flagellants, a very festival of flagellum, the more salt self-applied the greater the cheers. And who, a climax of sorts, will cut off his own genitals and throw them, like a girl tossing roses, to the crowed? The freemen among them, how many will volunteer to be slaves for life? Give them an enlistment bonus; a slave market of the wiling, and there’s profit in it too. The crowds in the arena will go wild laughing. Sir, I think I have a knack for policy, what say?
Now to matters of mind: transience on earth and the spiritual: no matter that for a Greek logician or matured Aristotelian intellect Christianity is illogical, ridiculous- it is Platonically compatible, and does offer a new dimension for previous not “Platonized’ masses. In essence, what matters is invisible, and is way off somewhere else Call it as they do, “spiritual”. The real is less, the unreal is more. This world is temporary, a way station to the real eternal one, Rome itself comes to be seen as temporary in their own eternal lives. What happens on earth hardely matters , as we see so vividly with the martyrs. They are our illustrative extreme, and unquestionably our warning case.
But here’s the rub: Rome, in being less important, has fewer levers of power. For Christians Rome, insofar as that Christian faith is strong, and not simply purchased by practical gains , or ‘the thing to do” in a group is the weaker empire compared with their god’s, that “God’s” eternal one. That “God” as competition will threaten the vanity of emperors, and menace Rome’s sole power. Nero’s outrage against Christians may have had such a basis. Future emperors not of Hadrian’s caliber are bound to become outraged with the insult of it, with jealousy, and so, become murderously vindictive. Those confounded emperors will insist on making trouble and, insofar as there are enough Christians ready to be martyred, and enough standing by to admire them, and, as I forecast, the Christians grow large as a sect, the vanity, and yes, hidden, the fear of emperors will bathe the empire in blood. No Empire survives its own massive internal bloodletting. Sir, I am no seer, but I claim prescience on such an obvious forecast. The careless way Rome selects emperors guarantees we will have more vindictive madmen, and high-living fools on the throne . If the army becomes Christian, Sir, they will revolt. We dare not allow Christianity in the ranks, Sir, and there are already stories that a few have converted. It is a dire matter I foresee, Sir, The Empire will fragment, I fear inevitably, and these Christians will be central in great events to come. I have no remedy for it, no remedy at all, but for myself to agree, carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, yes indeed, enjoy the day, and trust little in the morrow. For myself, I trust very little indeed.
A further woe, Sir, conceive, a wild idea, that their God is actually arrived on earth, and real. All -powerful they claim he is, having made the earth itself, they say, and if so, it is his empire. He then rules the earth, and will have his own vanity, and jealousy, and no tolerance for of an emperor who deifies himself, pretends to be him. If real, Sir, that God might well do Rome in. A very Hebrew of a god, that, raining fire and pestilence out of annoyance. Let the Christians get hold of that idea, Sir, and they will see themselves swaggering, walking on our graves, Sir, saying “piss on those Romans”.
Let me add more that bears on the Christian threat, like them as they are today as I did. We see them today so few, no secular power to them, no institutions capable of building practical power. They are not ancient enough of kin all blood and text-bound to survive as a tribe, as Jews do. How must they overcome these deficiencies to grow? It is people they convert, Sir, no matter what they say about souls. They must appeal to the real, the appetites, the needs, the satisfactions, whatever else they promise by way of heaven. It is life on earth they offer now, Sir, and the “now” of it is what an ordinary man or woman will weigh before joining up. They must promise earth, Sir, as well as heaven, and since one can see earth, they must deliver some satisfactory part of it, Sir, and we see they do when they feed and care for one another, trust one another, all to the good, of course, and Heaven as a bonus, being loved by their god as a bonus, all well and good. Is that good enough? If they do not deliver and thereby overcome, they will fail, and the sect will die. That is nature’s law as it governs humans. It is a law Rome discovered early. The Empire’s success testifies to our understanding of, obedience to that law. It is the law of power, conquest, gratification of the senses and, underlying, fear.
What natural law can the Christians use? None that is easily seen, surely not the law Rome exploits. They believe they have discovered other natural laws, not of earthly but heavenly power, where gratification is how the soul feels, but also more: the attraction is to the kindness of their group, a moral structure for living on this earth, and that eternal life in the flesh, because they covenant with their god who loves them. Their spiritual message is garbage to Aristotelians, but the smell of it---they speak of a palpable odor, that “fragrance of Christ” –appeals to the irrational, and that, Sir, is what most people also are, entirely, hopelessly, superstitiously irrational when it comes to any matter that is not immediately sensed. Yet it is not an irrational mind that knows pain and fears pain, and will do anything to avoid it, unless a crazy martyr. The Roman law uses fear, every time someone passes by some nailed up bag of rotting guts moaning on a cross, fouled crotch-down with its first day’s own excrement, the flies eating it alive, and rats crawling up the post at night to get a tasty meal of him. It is a shaking fear the sight and stink of it puts on a man, Sir, at least until he becomes Roman enough to learn reversing it to be pleasured by the other fellow’s pain.
It is a gamble the Christians have made, Sir, a gamble. They have declared war, social and spiritual, against pain, any kind of pain, here or about the hereafter, so all if it. Pain is a Roman weapon, Sir, and it is the Christian’s declared enemy. It is a kind of treason they practice against us, Sir, theirs is a wager about what laws of human nature are the more powerful; ours Roman one, that fear of pain because we do inflict it, or theirs, that fear of pain which they claim they are eliminating everywhere on earth, so right in the calmed gut of everyman, and about the afterwards of life here too..
That is the version of the natural law that the Christians bet on, and not just with talk but in the real kindness of their assembly. Both sides have thrown the dice on the outcome. Give the ordinary fellow a god who can get rid of fear, and daily bread to live on, and no rule so hard he can’t follow it, and I say there is another count by which the Christians will win out over Rome. That occurs whether or not their “God” is real by a standard like my own; a fellow who eats, drinks, sweats, and is god enough answering my prayer to put a cloud over the doting father’s eyes so the father doesn’t comprehend I am bedding his virgin daughter. The god of him, there next to me or in heaven, no matter, as long as they believe it. They say their god came to earth as a human, went up to heaven as Christ to prove it, and is in everyone. There’s enough vanity in that idea for Narcissus himself, and who do we know modest enough to object to that fine heaven-sent-and-sending fellow in himself? So here we have more Christian trouble, Sir, That idea is the practical problem for Rome. How does one disprove spirits, Sir, when their proof is testimony of the “I know it, I feel it, and I like it” sort. Trouble, Sir, nothing but trouble.
I leave it to you, Sir, now you have my thoughts and forecasts, to decide what to do about it. It is well beyond me, but for the carpe diem, live- it- up –today- while –you- conclusion all sensible Romans have already reached.. You are near-governing this province where the Christians mostly are, and growing. I say now is a decisive moment. If the Emperor saw it the way I do, he could kill them all off, make the destruction of Jerusalem look like a picnic. A few thousand over all the Empire, an no one would miss them. And they wouldn’t fight back, so a picnic, although I know Hadrian is such a peaceful fellow he would take some persuading. But he’s quick enough to kill off any one who threatens him personally, that’s the fact of it.. You might wish then, Sir, carefully to regard, weigh how best to offset the threat they pose, however ironic, that it is a doctrine of peace, love, harmony, brotherhood which threatens. They are proven un-Roman at least. I, myself, would be bored with such sweetness. I like battle and the equal lusting savagery which follows, and the camaraderie in it. Do not discount rape and bloodletting as pleasures, nor for the warrior, war also as his ladder to honor. The Christian would diminish my earlier pleasures, and the means by which this farm boy arrived in a palace suite. Peace, Sir, however welcome to mothers and cowards, I say it would bring shame upon Rome, and, further, bring us instability if ever emperors foreswore executing their own would be assassins. I make no criticism of the great Hadrian who has set the lines of our frontiers, not bothering to bring the excellence of Roman rule to Parthia, say, or beyond his British wall to the Picts. They are not worth our blood, but it will be shed along other frontiers where Bastarnae, Sarmatae, Vandali,. Briganti, others. Ceaseless are and will be the efforts of unlettered, outlander tribes to devour the sweets which are Rome.
As to the Christian mind again, local now and no far frontiers worrying us here. I grant you, it is a beautiful idea they have. There’s a sweet smell to it, as they say was the fragrance of their Christ. Odors are the most penetrating of sensations, there is a sensation to the very idea of it. Like perfume, difficult to name, quite impossible to grasp but knowing all who have the rose before them share the same experience, poignant, lasting, readily re-invoked. So they claim was the irresistible fragrance of their Jesus to become resurrected, appearing here, they said, to show himself alive again in the other world, their Christ. It is nonsense Sir, but a beautiful dream, and in that a miracle of the imagination. In contrast, thrones, even of the best of emperors, rise on decaying corpses, Rome is built on putrefaction. Again, which natural law dominates, the attraction of the rose or the repulsion of corpses on which power is built?
Allow me no, having shown the advantage of killing them because what they offer is dangerously good, let me show my cleverness by turning it all around. I am honest with you, there’s cleverness resides in offering competing choices, all with supporting arguments, so that whichever choice the king makes, or here a Quaestor, he will remember his servant for the persuasive argument.. With the elements known, it is a simple enough to calculate several different roads to follow for the interests of Rome in this matter. I am sure, Sir you have done the same, particularly after the strange business of Ignatius. And so now, practicing my instinct on the matter, let me say I have sensed your particular and unspoken interest when mention is made of the cult. I am open with you; I think it does not lead you in killing ways.
I say we conjugate the faith, call Christianity the new irrational future tense. Its forms, this new language, is the grammar of their God. Consider the objects of its verbs. They shed no blood except as martyrs. Unlike the Jews given to brave and ethnocentrically willful battle, the Christians include rather than exclude, thus they are in potential congress with all the people of the empire, none rejected on account of blood or race. If emperors persecute them, Rome is all the worse for it by having increased the number of martyrs, thus the sympathetic amazement which arise from that. One day spectators, sated with the martyr’s show, will ask, ‘What if in this insanity of faith they are right?’ Questions of that sort are dangerous..
Furthermore, whatever the madness of emperors to come, Rome must be wise in its tolerance, for given the diversity of Empire, it can hardly afford not to be, for all tribes and peoples have their separate gods, idols, to whom their worship is addressed. Is the Christian indifference to the official gods of Rome so important, when otherwise they comport themselves better than most? That imperial decision dare not be questioned, but one does not ignore that an Empire which ceaselessly lets its own blood, weakens from such exsanguinations. Smaller, waiting predators around the weakening body will lap the blood and grow strong to devour us. Unlike hyenas prowling round our walls, the Christians are not predatory. They convert as means to conquest. As that strange man, Ignatius, saw their future, it is be universal. That is their gentle weapon, not one in our armory. Perhaps, we should hire them as missionaries to convert beyond the frontiers of Rome. Supply and exile them, let them find their glory among barbarians beyond the pale. Zeus knows there are enough of them, and if it is martyrdom they seek, well, consider the Romans kind, for after their women flail them for such finery as sewing human skins will yield, the warrior wild men will broil them by the hundreds for their dinners, and throw their unholy bones to their heavy-jawed dogs for the crunching. So much for the idea of Christianizing savages; it is the Romans who are gentle enough to convert.
Danger in it then, and strange virtue, for Christians may be the first peaceful people the world has ever known. Their example in that is at least strange, but has a compelling logic which the Greeks would be more likely to appreciate than ourselves. Think Aristophanes’ Lysistrata as emancipated women brought about peace by denying their men sex. In doing that they proved their power over men in frustrating two appetites, sex and war, and indeed more, for war provides dominion and booty. I count on war rather than peace to be sustaining. Now you and I know Sir, that human nature is such that after the Christians tire of sweetness, then witless fights among themselves, they will disagree about matters close at hand, then begin to have at one another with swords as well as words. There’s real meat for anger in that kind of killing, brotherly love breeds the worst, brotherly hatred. It endures.
The promise then, kindness and if they are right, Sir, the immensity of it, the flattery of it. Forget for a moment the error of it, for its appeal to others then, I wish I could have thought of it myself. I forgive myself for being pulled several ways. Not believing any of it, liking and disliking it simultaneously, and yet, so much quite beyond ordinary imagining, I allow it might well take this “God” of theirs to have thought of it!
There you have my views, which in their amateur philosophizing, prove my interests in things religiously political have indeed been piqued. As your intelligencer, Sir, you see that I do more weighing worrying than predicting. I am then intelligently confused, which surprises me in itself. I do know the Christians will bear watching, Sir, no question about it. I conclude, Sir, after much back and forth on my part, for all the possibilities of them, yes, and more words about it than usual even for me, -but then I have dipped my mind’s quill already in much wine-so:
Sir, no scribing small letters now, Sir, I do foresee it Sir, using no swords, no assassinations, no bribes, just by words, deeds and the grand machinery of urgent dreams, the Christians may well conquer Rome!
Be that a possibility, Sir, at the end of the day, being prudent as to our self-interest, we need, as Romans, Sir, ask ourselves, what might be in it for us?I say it again, Sir, there is something in this for us!
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