Shock: the First Homily*
S. Cornelius, now Bishop began reading. As editor I, Balthus, attended carefully.
“I am before you for the first time, you folk of Bishops Ignatius, Heron, and, first after founding Peter, one named Evodius, Paul himself possibly, briefly before his angry departure, also in this lineage, but if so, Petrian erased, not the legend but any recording of it. Of any but your own substantial memories of your priest, be a cautious historian, for no one vouchsafes accuracy in such accounts. As your rule then, be aware that names of us are easily summoned and dismissed from records, memories are fragile, and also too easily adapt to the now, not the “then”. So then, the rule should any of us regard ourselves as persons indispensable for histories because we loved ourselves, or were even notable, that rule is that we are wrong.. Of course, honor yourselves as the substance of this Assembly; be glad for the texts and stories which found and fortify us, but you, this congregation, are the living heart, the life of this Assembly. It is, as Ignatius Bishop said, the congregation is more than the sum of those in it. No individual matters that much beyond the respect we must regard him in, but the group of the faithful, that is the pulsing body of us You are now, as Peter was, the rock. I disagree with Peter that you require intercession as I disagree with Ignatius that the bishop is closer to God. Ignatius, Bishop craved the power in that; it was only the power of vanity. We are all as close to God as our resolve determines, or as God himself might rule. I am your practical Bishop, no closer to God than you might be. Be that so, thee you honor me by allowing my presence, itself arising from two visitors, one the Bishop Ignatius, and some understandings, reflections, that were thrust upon me. I will serve you as best I can, and, as you will learn, subject to your endorsing will.
As for myself, I am brought by Ignatius call, which, prescient, showed better understanding of me than I had of myself. You will not know, I tell you now, that Ignatius made me privy to his revelation just before his death. Your bishop Ignatius’ wisdom anticipated the situation of the Christians. He saw me as of practical use, and predisposed to that, but not yet disposed, because I knew not what I longed for, for I had not yet been visited by the holy stranger.
I told S. Cornelius that this was a rather heavy opening for a once self-effacing Quaestor. I said,
“You open with a cavalry charge. Something a little more modest with less promise perhaps?”
There was no defensiveness in his reply, rather, as explaining adult things to a child, he countered,
“But you can understand, old friend, it is my truth. That is how it happened. I am their Bishop. I must tell them about Ignatius. But, I agree I must be modest, make no claims or revelation as to truth beyond my mind and experience. So you write the second paragraph, commit it to modesty, “
And so I did, writing then reading, “I have told you my experience. It portends no gift or truth beyond what I believe. I have no revelations, no words of God come to or from me, all I speak is what my mind and sentiment have conceived. You are critically to weigh my words. I am your Bishop, thoughtful of the needs of our time, so here speaking his mind, setting forth a plan. There is no other voice here speaking. It is imperative that you understand that.”
This man now Bishop heard my caveat. He coughed politely as he acquiesced to a German farm boy come south introducing my earth to his sky. There is ego in any fellow that would lead multitudes to heaven. I was, the Assembly was lucky that S. Cornelius was still more honest than vain. I said,
“It keeps you modest
“As I should be, and I’ma tempted not to be”
“I respect the difficulty all of us have in keeping to that standard”
“I can only try. But my new self knows new truths, but you require that I restrain myself in proclaiming them”
Yes indeed, there were reefs in these waters. For myself? In my life I had told many truths, most sworn on my honor, few of them reliable, few that I myself believed. I allowed a caustic edge when went on, saying,
“Alright, hear some more of you by you. Listen to see, well “hear, if you can stand it. You say,
“I claim no special knowledge of Christianity worthy of your ears. I claim no truths not already better known to your hearts. I claim no worth of myself as a person requiring your respect beyond that accruing to me formally as bishop, and in our ordinary congress, beyond the ordinary rules of courtesy, convention and law. Unlike Ignatius, Bishop I am unqualified to comment or advise on articles or intricacies of our Jesus history, emerging credo, the architecture of God and Jesus, the demands of our covenants, the definition of and conditions for salvation, not even the scope of our duties of love, charity and forgiveness. On all of these matters you were better taught before than I am now. Nor do I admit to agreement with all you may have been taught, or may currently be told. My person then, demands its independent reason.
I do not abdicate responsibility for our discourse on any matter, but as a man but who is newly converted come to you consecrated, I nevertheless claim no special authority from God, certainly not as to God’s nature. His being yes, architecture no. If from the act of other bishops having bestowed leadership upon me, you expect from me articulation of wonders, miracles, I cannot do that”
“Modesty is also dangerous” I said, “Everyone wants miracles, and as you see all about you, they want pictures, statues, engineers’ designs of and written promises from their gods.”
“I can give them none of this,” this Mule of him replied
“Ah, but they already have the great by and by promises, so you are in competition” He didn’t answer. I picked up the reading,
At the outset and impolitic, I state that in my role as bishop, I am of no particular spiritual value to you, since the Spirit is in all of you, bringing you here. My own visions and inundation remain the most profound events of my life, but, although I have earlier tried to put them in words, the word does not translate to the experience, which is itself, and about which one best be silent. I have no further word for you then bearing on that transcendent immensity. As your Bishop I am advised it is customary to remind you of the social duties that are the good sense of reciprocal kindnesses. In being excellent in what Moses commanded, in what a loving Jesus counseled, your own resolve is welcome but often insufficient. Further, we are all Job, conviction wavers, not many of us will hear that Voice. I am not your scold. Know that you are your own responsibility, and be relieved of episcopal hectoring. “
“You abdicate power” I said,
“That’s true” he agreed. I will use it politically, but I want no`power over souls”
I read the section that followed, I had been surprised when first I read it, now, outloud, it was the more exceptional. As I have instructed the scribes before, much of his following text, is put in smaller font. That is your excuse to bypass the teaching, radical ideas, and so, much of the mind and shock of him. Be lazy, be fast, and know I sympathize, for I too loathe tedious lectures. But a warning: you may lose the opening charge of what waited to be a revolutionary battle, whether “in”, “of’ or ‘for” I coud hardly say.Christianity. But then, what does a pagan Swabian know? And yes, as the senior scribe, a well educated Greek, prone to carping, (you can’t shut up educated Greeks, freemen or slaves. They believe their opinions, the lengthier the better, are the Roman listener’s only salvation from total stupidity.), when given his amanuensis’ instruction, commented, (I quote only gist, not length of it):
“As before, you are arbitrary in what you order be in smaller script”
I agreed. “I am no real arbiter of these things. I am whimsical perhaps, moody, perhaps a bit of the Devil in it, if by making it easier to skip the lessons of this man, I separate the reader from what might best he know. He, she, then beware, for I interpose my impatience as a quasi-eraser on this ink. These are Cornelius’ lessons, not mine. Who am I after all, what does a pagan Swabian know?”
We proceeded to hear what the Assembly soon would:
“A Wry Thing I Ask of You
You will find me a self-centered, an of-self speaking Bishop, which personal focus is foreign to notions of what is proper in these times. You will hear my confessions of being as I was and as I am become. I do this out of a compulsion to disclose, so in no way as to mislead. I unleash a very torrent of myself, this unlikely Bishop with by no means conventional propositions and demands. Ignatius, however, perceived me as fitting, as indeed I now do myself. Be that so, you must then fit yourselves to my proposals, a difficult things which comes most readily with understanding. One of my most pressing propositions, indeed commands often to be called out, one which I introduce at this, our beinning, is that it is your duty, one which will yield immense returning benefit, to pity the Romans. It is a wry thing that I ask for myself nearly the same, which is your effort at understanding.
Some of you may bridle at this. As with greater gifts, the human character is too often is stingy. I argue that our faith’s founding story is of generosity. It tells of God who gave his son as our joy and remedy, that son who gave himself as our love and salvation. I remind you then, as initial thrust, that God has given us our great and many gifts, providing hope, love and forgiving redemption. That Son gave himself for our sakes. We need no further examples, for these determine us.
As to my own character disclosed, where events bespeak and my journal chronicles it. It has been difficult to suppress what runs in my veins A Gracchi social ideal, a Scipio ambition, a commitment to glory, and that Roman delight in war, if not savagery. Happily I have not found rising in my blood those calculated murders of which so many of my kin, beginning with our grandmother generations ago, are by history accused. I suspect I resisted advance in rank lest more power tempt me to the easier exercise of these worser traits. I have asked myself, are all such violent impulses the other side of the cowardice that a crocodile wrought, that cowardice I loath?. If so, I am proud to have overcome such weakness. I am not, as you will see, a coward, nor a reluctant general.
I am also likely angry, but it is hidden so deep in me that its excavation might unleash the monster, and I would not be the gladiator able to vanquish it. Let it lay then, seething but unseen, which is also constitute’s a proximity to Hell. Hell is easy to know, it is love that is more difficult. In my case, not learning it early, I have found my teacher, I speak now in practical terms and not Christian abstractions, in my wife Helen. All of you know that the model for closest union with God is in our connubial passion. Remember the after-glow and be convinced it is given to you as taste of forever. For knowledge of love, again it is given to us in our families. Most Romans share no intimacies unless drunk. Bishops, more sober, share none. Disclosed then here, this u Bishop, who tells you the eaarthly good he knows comes from his wife, Helen. You all know her for what she was in Daphne, or legend says she may have been. You know she is not a Christian. That is her choice which is our lesson in tolerance.
The Intimacy of Mystery
“I tell you that God is, is to be experienced, and thanked. The rest is mystery not to be too much contaminated with the limited workings of our minds, our needs, but insofar as these allow us apprehending the transforming in-being with our God. Even with these words I venture to impose vanity and the unutterable upon transcendence. The noise of ordinary words can allude to, but in no way describe or illuminate God. As my first act then, I ask your forgiveness, I confess that my own experience of which I should properly remain silent but, as your Bishop, believe is best told as instruction to you as to the possible, that mystical experience of God, is open to any of you, that experience of inner glory. With that inundation, we are moved to a different space. ‘ecstacy’ as the Greeks knew it A person is forever changed by that. The change within dictates change without.
Thereby arises our special view of the urgency of morals, our deep commitment to our duties, to our mission. The experience of God colors all choices where a divine force known may be weighed against earthly pressures . The very definition of ‘imperative’ is altered. The crossroads then at which all are arrived and tested, is viewed from what is revealed as a more profound perspective”. The Bishop’s voice had become deeper and louder. He was a man removed from the immediate. It was if he hovered close to trance as here he was no longer rehearsing, reviewing his initial homily but weighed upon by some inner wonder come again entirely salient. I was for this moment embarrassed and a little afraid, so much the conviction in him, and me so completely removed from that. This chasm between us was unbridgeable, whatever tolerance we might exercise.
He read on, as definitive, “and so the decisions we make as to the road ahead, those choices when arriving at our crossroads, are, if we guide ourselves to the Good, foreordained.”
This was nonsense of a dangerous kind. It denied the responsibility for choice, invited the irrational, and roused me to protest, arguing, “No, you’ve left out Hecate. We all know she’s always there as seductive danger on behalf of wrong choices at any of or crossroads. A reasoning man allowed choice cannot surrender to the passive voice of the ‘foreordained’. Hecate delights in surrender.” I paused, “and you know, Boss, she may be watching us right now”.
It was, an unpleasant shock to me that he believed his being Bishop was foreordained, that his night Visitor was his guide, He had spoken of it only once or twice, but movingly as “the glorious, wonder” of it. As an advisor I know I amdifficult to stomach. Might I not claim, as a rather nasty tease, that it might then be “foreordained” that I should taunt him? Christians have a general problem here. After all that emphasis on their responsibility for choice, when they do something really stupid, or wrong, they fall back on fate or “God’s will” How every convenient.
He replied, also irritably,
“Thank you Balthus, there is no Hecate. Please mind your manors when you’re in my house. Provocation is no help, and I believe it was help you offered, is that not so?”.
I was embarrassed, but annoyance was the greater with his self-satisfied smugness again. Here his first Sunday talk, and he was sopping with righteousness so thick he could be mortaring bricks with the stuff. I said as much, .
“Boss, I may have an idea of what you mean, but your congregation will be in a slow uphill slog through mushy snow. First time around for me it was easier to read because I could skip it, now when I hear it, the stuff is impenetrable. My problem with religion, is that there’s nothing there but sound and muck. As for my point that Hecate at the crossroads is there, everyone in Antioch is brought up with her close hot hag’s breath on them. Alright?
He was not over his bilous agitation, “You demean what I say by bringing in pagan superstitions”
“Of which you are entirely free, I suppose, or me?”
Not Nero’s Rome, but this new-come Bishop was a-burning. I hurried to get on to something else.
“Maybe we can speed this up with less acrimony”
“ A very good idea, if your are capable of courtesy”
Two could burn at once. Even so, since I am the lesser man, I dampened my flame.,
“Forget Hecate. I apologize. What do any of us really know, I mean with absolute certainty?”
“ I know that God is, is beyond description, but that, beyond any of our conception of it, He is glorious, our promise and salvation, and, above all, free”
At had once been, that l Mule of old, all Drusus look, doubt andself searching. No more. In this confidence now spoke out, he sat before me as one man become whole, even if unfitting pieces of jagged memories also formed him. He’d found an adhering, healing god outside and in. And that freedom proclaimed? For a battered child become a man so long forced into the Roman mold, such a God, beyond the love and ethic of him also dear, this free One and grand, must be his ideal. To know and be with such a god, of course, of course! Maybe “foreordained” wasn’t so far off, if we comprehend it as a chain of descending causes..
S. Cornlus reached over for the parchments I had put on the table. Excited, he didn’t hand them back to me to read. They were his now, to hell with my carping. He read in wonderful deep, mellow, stir the troops, booming-when-you-need-it voice. The first section he raced through demanded his people give up their fear of the evil eye in blue eyed Northerners, since they needed to become Christian too. The Bishop’s eyes were blue; I could imagine him staring down his congregation, daring them look away. For some his blue eyes were enough to make them fearful, wanting to ward off this foreigner. No ecclesiastical matter, but, given the superstition widespread, it was a practical nonsense to set right.
History would have been different if Jesus, the usual brown eyed Palestinian, a dark-eyed Jew, had had blue eyes. As was customary, people would have spit three times, moved aside, yes cast town, when he walked toward them. These were apotropaic magic to s ward off his demonic blue eyed stranger danger. Jesus would have alwayswalked alone.
I rather liked the next bit, too much so to whisper all of it.
(From His Text)
The Tears of God:
“As Christians, when you fail to realize in action the good within you, when you turn away from the love offered you, you are the very tears in the eyes of God. He is the final cause, and He, only he among the powers, cares. In Rome you, suffering, cry out in pain or need, you are but an irritating noise in the ears of the rich. Like mosquitoes. Even in Rome’s most august- unfortunately a disgusting assembly- the Senate, of which my father was a memberuntil ordered self-executing, there is noise, rowdiness, manipulation and, because corrupt, their house is empty of meaning, empty of any but selfish, even ridiculous purpose. The Senate could not rule itself, but Christianity must. Or we also fail, self-executed. Let not God cry over our failures. Help God to smile
His text loaded the pot of buring oil into the catapult when he read out,
“ I am Roman and owe her loyalty. You owe that as well. What a shock to you. Here is Rome, too easily seen as your enemy and yet here now within your own Lord’s House, as Bishop a confessed Roman made ruler of that House. Shocking. No matter he was summoned by your wisest of bishops, that he is here sharing your faith, and that he is here, for practical as well as spiritual reasons, to try to assure your survival and Christianity’s evangelical success. You are shocked nevertheless. Be not surprised. We humans are paradox.
On the Conspiracy to Murder Ignatius
So be it. I start with the facts of our situation and invite honesty. Honesty when it admits to conflict, and may not be seen in our self-interest is not easy. “Practicality” tells you it is dangerous. Some of those here calling yourselves Christians conspired to kill Ignatius, your Bishop. In his letters he announced you but did not name you. Do your consciences give you the same immunity? I suspect so. Our minds are easily warped by anger, desire, and fantasies.
I have now confronted you. Do I forgive you? Not at all. God may, or may not. Will I pursue you? No. Do I expect you to forgive me? I don’t know. I tell you I want that out of any man’s near desperate need, but time and your charity will tell. Do I plan for your unforgivness? I am not sure. Ignatius, being the better Christian, and less realistic, did not keep his short sword ready under his robes. Have I offended again? Probably, but I ask this Assembly to make room for warriors as well as holy men, for Christianity has need for both.”
Aye , here was S. Cornelius, the man of him.!
“On Strong Institutions;
Hear me well. For assemblies such as this to survive and grow, formal institutions must be built. Rome knows these best. However, Rome does not value those who are the institution. Contrariwise, God has instructed you as to your supreme worth to him. The work then of all of these things is our own fashioning, moving as best we can closer to the vibrant, transcending mystery. Our work, however, is a practical mystery, making all, not a few lives better What we are about then, civilizing to the greater good. Organization is required, thus the ordering of rank and authority, for in those specified structures is strength. It is the same within our persons as we grow in discipline and complexity from infancy to adulthood. Some will oppose organization, for it is the Roman model of governance, not a Jesus fellowship, nor a pastoral life by the campfire. Their loss is the price of our survival. We cannot avoid this or other internal conflict. Come to me to mediate/ There is room for compromise and resolution in all matters devolving from good will. If you cannot yet love, you must not kill. That is all our law from all our sources. It is also practical that you must trust one another. You have become a trusting community in an Empire that lacks these. That’a God’s gift. Don’t spit on it!
On Worship and Tongues:
Ignatius, in his clairvoyance, brought me here not because I am of particular use, or indeed trustworthiness, in articulating, interpreting, reporting or inspiring.We are all, by our presence, proof of the in-spiriting of us. As Bishop I will ritually officiate as best I can, but the Elders, senior among them, the Elder Joseph, the Elder Luke will guide us too. The younger Luke, if he can mind his mischief, is reappointed Deacon.. So you of talent will lead in song, encourage your dance, decide whom among you who wishes to prophesize does so adhering to lesson and brief exuberance, not in vanity. Nor incipient lunacy let loose. No God who spoke so wisely through Jesus would elect incoherence through untutored mouths.
On the Parousia:
My wife, Helen, one night after we had made love, said she understood the Parousia (hardly the original Greek of it meaning an arrival of an official, it was only Paul who, eccentrically, argued it meant Christ’s almost immediate return) taken to signify as the paradise of loving, and the exquisite moments of it. She said she need not be Christian to recognize that what we taste in one another’ loving union is exquisite, it is we who arrive in coming. We need no mass orgies to cheapen the miracles of joy we know. A world full of kindness would be a grand such miracle. The Parousia is no Christ of a sudden reappearing. We would work millennia to deserve that. We must know him now here within us.
You Are Artists of of the Spirit
You, all of you, are artists, engaged in the silent, invisible portraiture of God, sculpting the cosmos, revealing truths as revelation. We hunger for stories as the Greeks made them surrounding their gods. It is a hunger for beauty which carries teaching and assurance. We hunger for poetry, which is one language of God, who is understood thereby as also beauty. Virgil borrows from Homer, Jesus writers learned from them. We borrow the best of ourselves from such sources, including now the Hebrew prophets, and, with some care as to authenticity, the Apostles who are likewise our seers, however failed for none of them wrote, but must have foreseen that others would do that work, some magic I allow in the elaborated, I say for art’s sake, transmission of the Jesus story. Jesus’ poets they were.
They mastered contradiction, did those Hebrew prophets, for their understanding, right for the times of difficulty, was hardly a likeable, God. Insofar then Yahweh is not likeable, he is too much like ourselves, albeit hardly as weak as us when we are unreformed. Insofar as we have choice, and Jesus is that choice, we prefer not to borrow ourselves from a too-human God. You will recognize that as one ideal in the choice to be Christian. There is art in forming ourselves as love as much as we can.
We are each our own artists of God, choosing among the stories the art which reverberates as essence to each one of us, I cannot tell you which is the greater story, but for the basic Jesus , God’s being, love and forgiveness. But yes, also as with the Hebrews, his demands. Our moral and community duties, and our capabilities for experiencing these in “religio”,are our relationships of immense values. It is our art in being open and in the doing of it. Your hearts are your own authorities. Your hearts, the soul being alive within you, these direct, a bishop is but a guide. Be assured, as you have and will seen, bishops may come among you who are fallible, their art of religion can be flawed.”
I consider you, all of us, reflections in God’s mirror, where the all of us are his artists making best stories, images, to arrive at essences of Beauty expressed, for that is the power of art. There will be no confusion then, nor terrible argument, insofar as you realize that you are all the artists of God’s creations. Look at the fine mosaics for which Antioch is famous, admire the copies we have of statues by Praxilites, the wrought jewely of Egypt, Scythians, Persians, that comes to us. No creative work of one man or woman is the same as the other. Our religion generates creativity, each Beauty its own. In the Assembly by question then consensus, we realize boundaries within which to center our art., but also the freedom to experience the holy as is best for you. You artists of God, allow yourselves individuality in the sacred aesthetic.Some of you will prefer to conform, be led. No harm in that, for it is the basis of harmony in the music of ourselves knowing the holy.
In being Christ’s artist, whether story, statue, painting, mosaic, music, dance or poem. you reflect and realize. For us, as opposed to Hebrews, these are not tribal acts but your own personal ones, for the Christian God, above all things, is personal. He is yours. You are his. Christianity is a religion of relationships in which you are intimately, sensate and in the soul situated. As when you were baptized, you are submerged in God, where you, conceived on earth, are washed by the water of Heaven. These liquids contribute to you artist’s colors.
We do not fight over an artist’s conceptions, for each is different as it aims for impact and beauty. To avoid the uniqueness of that created, in us or in our conceptions, we would requiry everthiing be a copy, no one speak his own heart or understanding. Roman soldiers are required to be that, but only in preparation for battle, or when the phalanx. We allow each his own worshipful or thoughtful creations, albeit contrained by our ruling story and appreciation of harmony.
I ask how can you fight one another then because of differences, when each Christian of you is a different percipient soul, and at the same time bound as a brotherhood, all bathed in that river of shared knowing and charity? Separate and yet indivisible, around us our private eddies, yet all in the same river. None of you will experience the same passion, for, as with your birth and growing, all of you are individuals. You are personal; your God knows you as you are, person, brother or sister in Jesus, and more broadly, siblings of our race. Do not chastise others whose inner image of God takes a different form.We are to love one another, but we cannot be one another. There is an exception to our tolerance. when the idea of God is exploited to dupe and deceive, I think of Simon Magus, his lies, thievery, exploitation, where self has replaced God,
You are reciprocally, each of you, the work of God’s art.
You are his imperfect art, because, I surmise here, you are intentionally given the work of perfecting yourselves. Those final touches are quite a challenge, art they not? That is the work of you. It also may be, think of symmetry, that insofar as one might conceive of that perfect balance, symmetry, as the more perfect, it proves less interesting. God has made you interesting, for all the trouble that brings.
“No more” I exclaimed. I was bored, truly bored. There were dozens of parchment pages awaiting reading on the table.
“Boss, I know it’s all very important, you care, maybe a few in your Assembly will get the deep stuff, but as for me, please, no more”
The Bishop of him wasn’t pleased,. “It remains to be heard”
“The Sunday you read it, it will be”
“There are some important things I want you to hear. The political ones will be your duty to help further. I count on you, Balthus, ”
I accepted, with increasing distress, that obedience was my duty, nothing new in that, but its expanded exercise on behalf of Christains was not for me. I was surprised at his dependence, incongruently mixed with command. I was annoyed, There is an especial duty imposed by those dependent, an animal helplessness that demands response. I suppose our mood and strength determineds our response, for it will be succour or violent riddance. It was this Bishop who had the power, must I acceed? With my throat still a road of dry rocks, for me to resume reading? No! Impulsively I said,
“I’ve read it all. You tell me what’ s so important to hear again, the short ones only please. You try my patience.”
Insolence earlier unimaginable, rude, and my giving an order to him. For a moment a crimson Bishop flared, then subsided into a chronic rosy hue. He was practicing control, I was goad today for his practice. It was my turn to wish for his tolerance, how fine if he understood the honest, reasoned depty of my disagreement. Our very brains were different. As for any to be Roman sensitive to subordinates’ feelings, but perhaps for extraordinary witches, that was a not a trait in the Roman character.
I had been offensive, and I must be sensitive to the risk in that. The soldier of me still lingered so, perhaps expecting the angry response I deserved, I anticipated S. Corneliius becoming violent. Were that to be, I had best watch his sword hand. It and its servant blade might not be as restrained as the too good Christian imposed uneasily on his lips. Nothing happened but that he continued his reading:
“Marcion’s Fiction: That Bandit ‘Centurion’ No Kin of Mine:
Mark several points. Do not for a minute think I believe any story put in front of me. The fact that our literature is so scarce, compare that with the Hebrew treasure, means we are vulnerable not simply to artists of the hopeful, but to expedient fraud. Take the legends being manufactured close to home as example. Marcion of Sinope now a member of this Assembly, as is his son, claim to be chronicling apostle Peter’s life, combining tales they have heard. In a coup for falsehood, they invent a Cornelius centurion having a vision, courtesy of Peter, and so converted to us. It is their proof to readers that Peter was like Paul in accepting gentiles, for Paul’s reach to gentiles bears fruit, see it around us, whereas Peter’s insistance that the faith abide by Jewish law is not attracting Jews. Christianity is not Judaism slightly revised by a new and optimistic prophet. That disagreement over orthodoxy and leadership between Peter and Paul is continued by their followers.
As for Marcion’s fiction, it is no surprise that my family name is taken up by freed slaves and others exploliting prestige to which they were not born. For instance there’s a freeman fish monger in the marketplace who names himself Cornelius. I have looked into this man of Marcion’s.story. The records show a dubious figure, a Syrian residing in Judea’s Caesarea who claimed he was Italian, and military. This “centurion” is not of the legion X Fretensis which is in fact stationed there, nor of any legion stationed here with elements seconded south. Instead, if the person my clerks found in our Roman records is the character in Marcion’s hoax, he was a leader of brigands who gave that up. His redemptive decision was a good one, for a posture of reform is preferred to a drooping one hanging on a cross.
In my text where I treat with Marcion and his son, also of that name, I have been kindly so as not further to trouble this Assembly nor turn the Marcion clan into enemies, at least for the present. I grant that already too much that is claimed as the history of our faith may be purposefull imaginings.. We must distinguish the politics of advocacy and self interest from that mythic art that magnifies understandings. That holy art is at our core we must appreciate, Sifting grain from chaf is not easy. The stories of our origins will change. People will disagree as to the most important ones as they build a new testament. Constructive openness to change is Antioch’s future gift to the faith.. Ignatius had that in mind when he sensitized me to this vocation. We have a renewable gift, not a static one condemned t to ossification, to decay.
At the moment prudence tells me to congratulate Marcion on his novella, but for him to claim the imposter is a Cornelius, I deeply resent. For all I know the idea of it came from my being here in front of him. There are enough ill-reputed genuine Corrnelii, I don’t want Syrian bandits added. I will deal sternly with forgers later when my position is stronger. I will trouble these holy liars. I will impose myself as censor over what stories we accept as canonical. Be reminded no scribe accompanied Jesus. No scribe waited outside his tomb. But stories grew, not all useful insofar as we try to center ourselves. We are in storying times, but when there is no art in it, I will insist on honesty as opposed to flights of myth-making. Apocrypha, those mujltiplying weeds of the pen, will be exposed as that.”
It was an angry Sempronius (Gracchus) Scipio Cornelius who had spoken. Clearing his throat, drinking a full cup of soothing syrupy wine, for he would have no dry stones impede his manifesto’s road, he read on:
Your Duty: Understand the Roman’s Gods
Pay not much attention to the constellation of beings, the surrounding us Greek, Chaldean, Persian, Egyptian, southern Nubian spirits, all partial in strength and presence, non being holy or wholly evil. The mercurial Olympians whom some of us know best are only storied immortal, surely immoral, and particularly unreliable. Even as best imagined, no god of a place or cause, thus all the earlier gods carved and invoked, is a true friend to man. Nor to they love, nor do they sacrifice, nor do they fulfill us, care for us, become one of us and thereby invest us with their own spirit, our soul the inner transport of God. They neither lead nor teach nor save us. No one of them suffered for us, could conceivably die for us, nor ever opened our way here to love and forgiveness, nor promise humans to join them after on Olympus. They ran an exclusive and rowdy club, useful sometimes for attributing causes, more often for Greek dramatists searching for colorful characters.
The Romans have less dramatic deities born from their history, borrowings and myths. None came to them as an historic and miraculous moment whereas, in contrast Christians are historically even mythically blessed. We are, as we work to assure all in Empire will be, privileged. Those Roman gods are outgrown, but for the political. The idea of them lends confidence and definition to Rome, but there is no more to them than you see. They are, at best, marble, perhaps bronze, often wood, none with God’s light in their eyes or His fire in their bellies.
As a Roman I will give offerings to the Roman gods, only for what they stand for on behalf of Romans, not because I would trust a one of those carved stones to help me, however starving, to find for me a bowl of soup. Symbolic acts done on behalf of others, respecting their needs and their ideas, can be kind. The idea of a Jupiter? Zeus, Minerva/Hera as leading, protecting, caring for the Empire is a fine and traditional one. Once it partook of the holy, before those stone gods died and Roman souls withered. Yet today, since a Roman defines himself only by his place in the Empire, the Roman gods are trustees for his identity, and thus security. From emperor to plebian, Romans are afraid to desert their gods for fear the gods will desert them. They deserted long ago when they, with the Olympians in the time of over-riding Greek rationality, became the stuff of literature, rational causes with irrational names, and conveniences accounting for accident and the inexplicable. The Romans still fear much and seek protection, for in their minds their stone gods are the hearts of order. For Romans orderis imperative, for history shows empires, if disordered, are fragile, as are lives. I ask you to understand this.
No one asks us to ignore the beauty of temples in this town, nor its arcades, fountains, baths, arenas, statues, nor indeed its plumbing, and certainly not the festivals, and over it all, orderly government and protections. Antiochus built a bit of this, so did Herod, so did Antioch’s local wealthy citizens, but most has come from Rome. Rome could have done this without faith in statues, but few Romans are brave enough to deny their hopes for their gods beneficent powers. Romans see their gods, the large ones down to the gods domestic and ancestral, the Lars and Penates in the household hallway, as where their luck, destiny and courage lodge. Like a man who cannot swim who thinks the water is so deep he will drown, he will not enter the river even though the fact of the river is that nowhere is it more than three feet deep. A Roman fears to confront the world without his tendence done toward the gods. He fears to disbelieve although he does, he fears to venture although he might, he fears that without them Rome is not, and since he is defined by Rome, he asks, “What will be left of me? “
I go beyond advising you, I beg you not refuse your charitable understanding of the Romans. It is hard to be sympathetic to those cruel and aloof in power, those masters of crucifixion, almost all corrupt, to those who flaunt their plenty gained as booty, from the labor of slaves, and from oppressive taxes. You know and I know that we Romans are flawed deeply. They may be at their best when pretending reverence to Greek gods, who after the Roman enslaving conquest of Greece, in divine sadness turned themselves lifeless, becoming cold stone memories. Yet any act wherein a Roman humbles himself to greater forces seen in any way good, any reverence at all, is to be applauded.
Pity the Romans.
Yes, you hear that again. Pitying is an easier task than Jesus’s demand that we love. If not merciful, the giving of ourselve, pity can be patronizing. For the now of us, I ask you be generous with your pity, but it may be too soon for me to ask you to love them. Loving them as they are is difficult, for they do not reciprocate, except through the gift of buildings, roads, courts, governance, aquaducts, trade, and order. The material and organization are their triumphs. Circuses are an obscene offer which show their darkest side which is pleasure in cruelty. Confess that you enjoy the prosperity, safety of, and pride in the Empire. It is the safest, best fed and richest, most enduring empire the world has known. Its builders and administrators deserve our admiration, and since we are Christian, our love when we become able to do that. But no love has been poured into their pitcher, they are dry of it. That is what you and Christ in you can change, should you bring yourself to forgive them knowing that is also wise as your politics of strength, indeed survival.
It will surprise you to think of yourselves as leading the Romans, rather than following as subjects do, but you are Christians on a goodly a march. Assume a long road before you. Imagine it paved with the neatly cut limestone blocks we use hereabouts. You will feel hopeless if you count the total blocks ahead of you on the road, but, as in your lifetimes you have indeed moved foreword, be proud of the paving blocks trod and now behind you. Be confident in the marching distance you have already, feet weary and soul-tried, come.
Those of us reared old Roman are warlike, and not very clever at understanding being loved, for if we have not had it, what are we to recognize? As you move forward now and near future, Romans will throw their lances at you. As you travel over those limestone roads you will leave some slain friends, and many lances behind you. Take solace in thinking your friends walk a new road that promises Heaven, the lances move not and will rot. The Romans who threw them will one day, one by one and then by multitudes, understand they need no lances against Christians. It is they who will run to embrace you, for you will lead them to the deeper joys and now more explicable sorrows, that saving faith, that salvation realized understood here and now. It is salvation for your lives now being lived, as well as when they may continue toward their perfecting, always toward your perfecting, for whatever the duration of a promised eternity may be.
As I face you with this immediate task, examining how you treat with Romans, when, of course, you are entirely occupied with how they have treated Christians—which we know has occasionally been horrible, depending on emperors’ madness, vanity and spite. For the most part Romans prefer indifference to subjects’ religions. They have been quite tolerant of but political insult or insurrection, and fear how social clubs might foster these. Be glad they do not see us as a club, but as a faith, however they otherwise misread us. There is already success in this. Love them then, honor their gods as you know they once were, as movement toward the holy. Allow first tolerance, then understanding, then comity, then congress. These are the milestones on the highway which you must built to a Christian Rome. In it, our mission and, yes, survival. I do not persuade, I command you as before; pity the Romans, be glad the marriage of empires.
Now, listen to me. There are to be no provocations to martryrom! If we respect the Roman gods for what they are, and not ridiculously as competitors to the reigning God who rules and loves us, we will give no cause to emperors or consults, no matter how rabidly evil they may be, to fear us or to use our bodies as torches, as Nero did, to deter disorder. There us no guarantee against the madness of emperors, it has come and will come again to plague this Empire as long as it is not Christian, but let us no bait mad dogs, and be glad in our accommodation to the excellence we find in such as Hadrian, and Trajan before him.
I take a moment now to guess God’s mind. Why should He want you dead too soon and painfully? I venture He prefers your deeds of love, when the choice is your continuity in life doing that, doing much good, fostering the life He has given you, compared to the cheering Roman arena’s all glad your stubborn refusal to lend the poor Romans your own tolerance. That is your obedient Caesar-rendering obedient gesture of respect for their beliefs in their gods as once the destiny, now the empty stone embodiments of one idea of Rome. Each individual Roman has his honor at stake in your act. Romans have little enough of worth to treasure, but honor is prized. It is their tender place. Don’t poke it with your barb of righteousness. Tolerate the Roman gods, for in your act, not theirs, the nervous emperor believes the peace of Empire is at stake. Realize how important your acts and accord are to these two pillars, honor and Empire. You Christians will one day be Empire itself, let its minor frailties be. And insofar as you think your faith is tested by witnessing your own slaughter, realize instead that it is your greater strength to stay the course. I have often repeated that unfolding course of Christian destiny is not to conquer but to become Rome, investing it with your legions of example and working truths. Honor even the Romans, thereby greater honor to yourselves.
I spoke earlier of the long march we make as the cadres of faith. The martyr’s popular image not withstanding, no departed martyr can do the long march with us, nor do I think most minds, unless the brain-fever excited sort of the late Ignatius, take serious joy in seeing their road heading toward the wild beasts in the arena. Admiration for the courage of a martyr may linger in the mind of those who walk the paving stones, but keep in mind, I speak now of the too-willing martyr who has provoked, to that prideful martyred maiden who can carry no babe on this journey,who can offer no food to the poor along the way. She has denied us her useful and compassionate self. We need fellows on the march whose songs we hear, whose cadences ring out, who can wash one another’s sore feet. The burning odors of flesh too soon gone from us is useless. We must not only not feed ourselves to the four footed beasts, we must not be in the arena to feed the cheering, and sometimes ejaculating lusts of the Roman mob as the greatest beast. Be thankful for the Greeks in Antioch, who knew these things and whose tradition allows no circus orgies here.
On avoiding provocative refusals: Consider the Roman gods as sticks of wood. No Minerva, no Jupiter is able to piss on the cobblestones let alone bring on a rainstorm. We on the other hand, can be a veritable storm of love, transport, a storm thundering salvation. We reject the lightning, for we are illuminated, our God is like the sun. We reject the lightning; we neither burn nor kill, nor need we thunder; we do not invite ourselves to kindle terrible mischief.
I have shocked you deeply. I have the temerity to presume a sensible loving mind of God, and in speech I have been vulgar. No doubt only your Roman Bishop would be so egotistical, crude and, respecting what you have come to believe about the virtues of martyrdom, heretical. I stand here now awaiting a lightening bolt. I raise my hands skyward. I am not struck down. And if God is not shocked at my advocacy of Christian lives prized, I propose, no matter how angry you may be at my views, and commands, that it is not in your hands to fling at me some lightening equivalent, some sharp stone celt of it ( no Zeus thunderbolt these ever were, but some earlier man’s intended lightening) but, if you are moved to such a deed, then your knife is wielded in utter, shameful, disrespect. The hands of man are ill intended to work private spite in the name of religious opinion.
Yes, I do sense lightening in the eyes of some you looking at me, those brown eyes and black that were earlier unable to stare at blue. Religious opinion indeed, murder is too easily done using a disguise. I have told you I will resign if a century of you opposed me. If you who are opposed cannot persuade that number to your being right, I do counsel a re-educating modesty in your, yes, entirely political, defeat. Do not assign to any righteousness of faith your justifications for personal quarrelsomeness. Do not lend Christ’s name to the sunderings that a devil’s name, ‘dia-bolos’, I remind you it refers to disruption, in a game his disturbing the balls in play, so, he is the force that comes between, sunders.”
He put down the pages, looked at me directly. “ Balthus, I ask your forgiveness. I am taken with my own work. There was a joy in its conception as there is in my anticipation of its delivery and, if my mind has conceived it all well, its impact. No,not just on this Assembly, there is little enough manpower here. I have commanded centuries and hosts. I have planned and endured campaigns. This one is the greatest, for I am its general. As with all work against apparent odds, each footstep of a soldier must be a calculated working action. Each thought in the army’s mind must lend itself to strategy and victory. There is no piecemeal or ad hoc adventure in it. My plan for the Christian victory is no less, but the elements are not of war but remedies for current wrongs, wrong sentiments as well as customs. I aim for ordinary purifications which allow a greater victory.”
I, Balthus, interject. I am responsible for seeing to the texts, memories, reported events going into this Book of Cornelius, for that is what you see is continued a- building here. Having first read, then read out, and then again heard S. Cornelius read out his talks, my throat and ears are indeed weary. I am tired of this room and his company. But, to the good, I am surprised to be still learnng this man who is the closest I shall ever come to having a friend. His speeches are tedious, but I am finding some wonders in them, deeper thoughts and more understanding than I thought he was capable of having. I have some worries too. He spends a lot of time worrying about himself, for good reason I say, but this Christian business has sensitized him. He probably has no interest in at all, but for Helen, in loving others, it’s ridiculous and impossible. I’ve not seen a rash of that sort infest him. On the other hand, to understand people is a good idea if you want to get them to do what you want, or for those of us sensible, for self protection and advancement. The quiet fellow who listens and observes– the spy is simply his magnification working to an employer’spurpose-is better off than the man who proclaims and demands. Such a fellow expects much less, is not disappointed and, if he isgood at it, make no more enemies than he, I admit now “we”` already had.
I admit that I am discovering a sort of marvel. What? S. Cornelius made whole his two material selves, the warrior and the Bishop, the Roman, idealist to be sure, but joined now, themystic. Is the mystical of him a third self, as much Visitor ever- present as more than memory? Three selves then, a trinity of a man? I am only a pagan Swabian. Not even I trust my conjectures, however insightful. As for the contradictions in the man, I allow they may be more me about him, than what he is. Whether mine is an agreeably open mind entertaining options, or a revolving, spinning one, all those atoms, confused and colliding, I cannot, at this moment, establish.
S. Cornelius might have been whole to begin with, and happier born a classical Greek Yet the Greeks did not have such a reconstituting, energizing religion. Bless their intelligence for that I say, but for S. Cornelius, it cements him. Now, he has mended his torn loyalties and doubts; this every bit the Roman who despised Roman ways, and this dreamer who saw, but dared not touch that, he thinks, holy stranger come stand by his bed. S. Co;rnelius has woven a fabric of himself out of both substantial and insubstantial stuff. I allow, for the pagan I am knows that gods do visit, and can possess, that his holy bedside Visitor might still resides in him as more than memory, That too must be allowed. We reject that the world is an entirely mechanical place. Mended then is this man, perhaps even of the marks of the paternal crocodile jaws. Mended him of his no mother caring? Has he rewoven himself of those early tears? I have no idea.
In my view, his weave, the new fabric of him, is further cemented by its rituals, robe and trappings. the chasuble, mitre, scepter all borrowed from our Roman pontiffs’garb. Nothing new in that, we all borrow ourselves from the stories we hear, what we read and see, offerings to us. S. Cornelius enjoys both more and less. His healing illusions are idealistic and religious ones, but they were built of the bricks of the basic man; the experience of a failed Rome impacting an energetic, competent, organized, dedicated and decent man. All that would not cure the inherent flaws of a Corneluus, fated by expectation, family and blood to conquer or, as with his Gracchi forefathers, even more nobly, as measured by the Good, to fail. I suspect all this generates some grand ambition and an imperial view of self. Is there also in it a God vanity, himself as if some Hebrew prophet and chosen? I am a godless Swabian, orphaned of all illusion, suspicious and envious of all my betters, clever enough to have survived so far, but always with uncertainty. I am not adverse to ambition, hardly, but I move by cautious steps. As for certainty, that’s for S. Cornelius, not the likes of me.
S. Cornelius was speaking, “I apologize, Balthus, I base my new life on what you read now, its implications and actions. If you do not mind, pretend yourself in my pulpit, pretend yourself the demanding, exhorting, Bishop there. Be elevated in your vision, and befriend my waiting text, and take another cup of throat- soothing syrup wine”
What could I say? I did and I did and I did, each as he requested, and so, you, if a patient person, will read more of this Bishop’s will. (a very strong will indeed,) If you lack patience, an excuse for your own absent determination, I give you that excuse by way of my old trick, the scribe writes smaller to signify my whispering. The scribe protests each diminished word; he believes the lengthier and louder, the more obtrusive, the better, for that seems the current Greekling standard for a conversation, and, after all, one Greek translation for ‘homily” is “conversation. Pericles would cry to hear noise substitute for intellect. Be sure that here, these smaller letters, do not imply an less intelligent content. I simply bend to the curse of the times, people want to hurry through books. As for these too-loud scribes, I say the Greeklings deserved enslaving.
Be assured, there is no lack of importance in any word set to small script here. The program this Bishop has in mind is, literally, masterful.
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