CHAPTER   LXIII

Staff in Hand, and  in the Scabbord?


 I, BALTHUS had read, believe me with great care, his parchment delivered to me those few days ago. His intellect is greater than I thought. His precepts, radical and pragmatic, bespeak a wiser and more ambitious man than before. I grant the possible paradox here. He experiences the mystical,  I believe him when he says it has formed him as Christian, yet from his divine source, S.Cornelius offers an extreme but,  he insists, practicable policy. He may be right. We may infer his a most pragmatic god. 


To know this man read these sermons, for they are himself and determining. Withstand the tedium of his sermons if you would know the credos which may well be the future of his faith. The Bishop would impose his vision would this God-soaked, martial aristocrat, Bishop and more, this S. Cornelius with a sword. 


We were seated in a private room in his house for my wine-delayed comment. Flattering that he had asked, there was also peril in honesty about that.  What would I tell him of what I thought?  That it all bored me?  That what he would say was not full enough of miracles and promise to entertain, or that, being himself,  autonomous always and aware of his own power,  he was condemned to remain an outsider, even as Bishop early anointed  by Ignatius?  Would I tell him he was too soon for them, here in this Empire too soon for himself?  Whatever the epiphany come to him,  and that I would not gainsay,  for everyone of us has had  supernatural visitors, would I be the teacher telling my superior that his message of some wisdom and much command, also artistic, pure, impossible, tedious as well, , would be beyond his Assembly’s will or understanding?  Would I say my forecast imposing new sentiments and tasks on parochial Antiocheans could not please them all?  Would I tell him that it made me uneasy?  That I was for the most part bored? No, I could not say these things. What then will I tell him?


I might safetly`say he had avoided theologastering (a new word for me too), that he did not describe his God, so avoiding pretense, fancies, the humanizing thus belittling projection of the traits and praise we know,  the inevitable error in the hubris of it. That he was pompous?  That was a criticism he would accept from a Swabian who was nothing much compared to him. That he was dogmatic? He would tell me that was every bishop’s businesss no matter how newly come to their throne.  He was full of purpose and himself. Without legions at his command and call, that solitary imperative invited trouble A delicate matter here; speak her name and Trouble eagerly comes to you as called.


Dread diseases here abouts, when incurable,  are not called by true name, only euphamisms, as you already know in the case of the doom-laden fateful Furies, instead called “The Kindly Ones.”   Words have special power, as in prayers and curses.  There is magic as well as motive in them. S. Cornelius because of his Bishop’ authority, his Ignatius –imputed interceding relationship-sole in the Assembly- to the high god, and his charisma, endows power in his words, that as enlightened rational and moral  instruction to conduct and policy, so he thinks. Those unsophisticated will hear him as their master magician.   Be wary: one never knows who, hearing, might quiver to another vibration, as glass can shatter on a lute string high note. 


As an intelligencer, or even a boob,  I knew divisions in this Assembly could rise to riot. In Antioch riots are fire, earthquake, pestilence. They make ruin.  S. Cornelius’ prepared talks, these homilies,  were remarkable in many ways, not the least their potential for setting his Assembly afire. I would prefer something cooler. I wished him well, this Mule. In my own way I loved him, although not quite as well as myself. The Commandment demandstoo much.. For this religion to spead it will needs practice hypocracy, elevated stuff, pious garbage,  Hypocracy? Easy and natural, it grows like mold on cheese. Or bloat in the cow that dies of eating too much springtime grass. That Commandment is where the gassing green grass grows well. I already hear the faithful saying “yes” to it, but it is only talk. That reassures me. They are normal after all. Thaat does not reassure me. They are normal after all.


“Well,  Balthus?”


“Its pompous” I told him. “and long, very long, even for folks who like three hour talks”


“I plan to split it into three homilies, three Sundays.  As for being  pompous, that comes with being Bishop. In the Army we just shouted orders.  Here I have to draw the map, pick the fight, plan the battle, and recruit and train the troops”


I understood and asked, “If I read it back to you so your own ears hear it, maybe you’ll hear where it can be cut, alright?


“I’ll listen carefully. I’m grateful for your having taken the trouble to read it, and now here going over it with me.”


“Boss, my reading this was an order and you know it.”


“I suppose so, yes, but I wanted your response, so still thank you”


I continued with my opinions,


“And you could guess my response Anyway, I grant most of it is very good sense, although you rely on God-think is your authority, although you duck much of anything concrete. Your Assembly will take your personal report of for your conversion on faith. You’re their proof of the Christ business, two voices out of one man, and which voice is whose? You moralize, you wax poetic, you are building new lives. I’m not the one to say if it’s still Christianity.   It’s certainly not the ego’s celestial reach of Ignatius. You will shake some of your faithful upside down. Hear the “no’s” spill out, or the spleen.  However beautiful here and there, there’s more you of it than anything else to be heard like an imperial edict. It’s not a tranquil beginning, Boss, not that you, I’d call you now their  “Bishop General”, much cares. 

  

“You have it right”


This was going nowhere. He was all agreement, a paradox of sorts, since I wasn’t.  “Shall I get started reading your own back to you?”


“Please.You see plenty of wine on the table here. When you get dry from the outloud of you,  we serve ourselves. I want no serving slave to bother us”  He paused, said, “No,  I’ll serve you ”


It would be a rare thing in this status- layered world for a man of S. Cornelius rank to serve wine to any subordinate.  I said impulsively  “Something like Jesus washing the poor man’s feet, eh?”


His face flushed. He reached for the flagon on the table, silently poured me wine, waited, when composed said, 


“That sort of thing is supposed to be good for me,”

 

I wasn’t going to pursue that one further, too many ambushe sites along that path. I was invited first critic and sbordinate. He would be overly sensitive, The ribbons on the mitre a bishop’s ego wears flap wildly when any criticism is in the wind.  These speeches, sermons, rhetoric, call it what you will, were the totality of his conception of his new self projected. As with the commander taking over a legion for the first time, the Assembly, and in his eyes, more even than the tiny all- of- Christianity were to hear his will. Emperor and Empire were his mind’s audience for this manifesto,  all gauging his capacity for that command,  his loyalty, and what fissions might arise. How might each exploit the other. That is always the central query.  The Empire was spiritually restless. The likely impact of the sermons then?  Accptance, disregard, arrest,  exile, ridicule, outrage, recruitment, acclaim, conversion and revolt of the legions, dismissive laughter, all were conceivable. I think no triumphal arch built in Rome, at some later date, perhaps.  Could I, at this late stage, guide S. Cornelius to a best one of these? Not at all. Mules aare difficult enough to lead, whereas at this moment, he was Hannibal’s elephant charging. 


He wanted, so he said,  an honest opinion from this pagan who knew that any opinion had best be approval.  Of course I’d lie if necessary. I knew I wouldn’t dissuade him from much of it, at best maybe get him to change a sentence or two. I knew I must succed in getting a few changes to his introduction. He had found himself and was not about to let a Swabian subordinate make him lose his way, again Every change would be a fight, for he was pleased with his plans, smug in his moralizing and very much taken with his own words. In that, well,he was no different from most of us. 


I began to read, my deepest voice, a  serious face, a risky business, this my voice’s edge of mockery. The washing Jesus jab I’d made told me I was angry about more than I knew. I told myself be careful, once Praetor he’s  still capable of running you through, however  impolite that, andin his own house, messy.  I calculated there was only a limited amount of cheek-turning possible in any Christian but maybe the nuttier ones with greased cervical vertebrae.  This one, well, not much flexibility in his now Spirit-massaged aristocratic stiff neck. S.Cornelius was built of pride, and here he was Hannibal’s elephant running full tilte, those  lances in the battle howdah set. Was I to smother his trumpeting? Thank you, no  Bishop, Sir, start reading! 



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