The Third Homily: Strong Views and a Forecast 

(The text of the sermon given by the Bishop)

Peace be with you. I open my comments this third day before you, with a criticism of a document newly circulating among some of you, one I am told that is viewed with much favor, especially by those with a more Jewish history and inclination, thus Peter’s people rather than Paul’s. It is a diatribe against a Rome which, however evil, is not the monster of this venomous vision. I know some of you who see only the monster, and not the despair of the Romans, a despair I call upon you to help cure. And yes, I allude to the divisions that I hoped were past, but are still among us.

On an Angry So-Called John

 I saw pieces of this text earlier, for spies brought it to me when I was second to Publius Marcellus, Governor.  The small book of it was titled Revelations” by an author calling himself John, who also called himself a seer.  Seers and shamans, much respect to them for their special gifts I say, but for that respect they must get their visions right, nor hide behind a disciple’s name, this fake and coward here. this abominable so-called seer.

 Regarding John’s “revelation” his forecast was recall and exhortation,  a response to what was in his time present, what is in our time past and present, for it is a vengefully angry diatribe against Rome, I presume by a Jew become Christian, for having done as Rome must in suppressing the Jewish War. It is surely also right fury over what has happened here in Syria under the martyr- massacring emperors whom I name as Caligula, Nero and Domitian. Having named evil, he exhorts us fight it with universal martyrdom if need be.

As a soldier, I say it is an odd battle when all one’own army puts its throat to the enemy’s sword, and calls that “victory”  As a general I say it is a foolish battle if one has not sought to devise ways to show the enemy how it is best to melt his swords into plowshares.Force him if you must, but the goal is peace without suicde. Difficult, yes, but this, our insurrection through prayer and evangelical example of goodness, at least allows a future for Christians. And yes, at times we must draw the sword from our scabbord. Christians need not be fools.

We must also be strategically clever.   If all are dead, what kind of an army does any wise general for God have? that dead army against which I have earlier reviled? No, not for a lively, purposeful religion. Let the corpses of the enermy do the sleeping.  We are for working. God’s work over time is hard work, sometimes failing work, but I cannot see a God giving the gift of life and faith, and agreeing with some rabid painter of dreams that the gift is means nothing.

Pseudo seer John’s is a fantasy of future of triumph over a symbolically pictured Rome. For his vengeance to succeed it depends on a lively political and military response to his apocalyptic call.  He would, in a word, set Christians along with Jews once again in revolt, even to the point  Since acquaintances tell me this writer John lived hereabouts for a while, I must presume he would recruit you to that insurrection as well, if only in your fantasy. Since fantasy will not bring down Rome, it would require your conspiracy which inevitably would lead to your deaths and a massive campaign by Rome against Christians. While I am here, if you abide my counsel, there will be no further such pointless slaughters.  As Roman and bishop charged now with your success as Christians, I do not ask, I command you, abjure the dangerous council of this angry, anonymous artist of hate.  To abjure is to renounce by oath.  I will not supervise this act; I rely on your own honor so to swear on whatever sacred texts you have at hand.  Yes, I begin with shock and contrary views, but if I am to lead you, I must act on what I know and ask you to act with me on all such practical matters.  

I comment further on the fantasy, not “revelation” of this anonymous writer. Powerful are the symbols he uses, magnificent is his writing, glorious his gift as a wordsmith of visions, bright the paint that glows in his words, but seer and mantic, hardly. Holy? Absolutely not! An angry belligerent Jew who calls upon gods and horsemen of apocalyptical destiny to bring down “the whore of Babylon”, obviously Rome.  A bad disguise, Babylon is long dead, Rome is vital, and is in no need of Mesopotamian whores, where wealth, then tarts are, we are rich in both, Rome then is its own bordello. .  This anonymous John hiding behind invented names, too cowardly to come forward as a martyr, and fool to confuse vengeful anger with what we try to create.  Antioch’s fellowship must reject this text as any counsel to any Christian here.

I credit him as an artist splendidly enraged, but no seer. He would be an  instigator but he is no warrior. He wills his faith’s kinsmen a morbid triumph, but his is anonymous Will, for he is a  cowardly conspirator. I conceive him dangerous, this ‘John”. The fellow who sold this book to our spy was, so the report reads, much taken with it as God-given revelation.  Christians would do better having more sense than to be entirely persuaded by even the most glorious imagined of deceits, especially one that, if enlarged to action, could do for them what the revolt in Jerusalem did to the Jews.  Your thoughts are entirely you own, as is your private experience of God, how you are magnified by the beauty of faith. It is your public self which I address and command, for it is your public self, however powered from within, that would, if acting on such insurrection as this John requires,  destroy all of you here and across Christendom. It is, in fact, the laziest of propositions, and childish in its impatience.   This John of whatever true name, in arguing mass death, we die for the sake of his anger, would have been better employed as counselor to Domitian, for the deadly outcomes both sought were the same. 

You owe Rome your thanks. It is a sin of righteous vanity to be ungrateful   The fabric of Empire profits and protects Christians as much as any others not born to the Roman ruling class. As Empire continues, an ambitious and competent Christian can do as well as any other provincial to climb the ruling ladder, although he will find more in his faith’s heart than on that bloody gold top rung. Success of John’s sort, built on hatred, envy, dreams of conquest, a tribal vengeful god, but yes also framed a warfare over Evil, an epic realization which makes our Christian being insufficiently blessed in the present and too temporal conception, will be no better for Christians than for Romans whom they would become, or Jews out of whom they are sprung. As yet a common sense Roman, I counsel dreams either entirely artistic or beautiful in themselves for that, or visions that can be realized compatibly with this world and the Other.   This artist John is a dangerous general of ideas, but I grant him one triumph, as a would-be magician he has written the longest and most colorful binding spell ever, to my knowledge, cast.  I am told Ignatius once said that any religion overtly magical is local and shallow.  John is parochially local, but does seek depth by the magic that summons Names, indeed summons terrifying visions to make real.  These are magical invocations; the utterance materializes as the force.  To “spell out” indeed, there is too much hate in this magician. That he would be called “Christian” I find anathema.

I realize that, should John’s angry mantic art become come to be available to be read, these will capture many whose feelings, losses, sacrifice move them to glory in the vengeance he made into prophecy.  His passion and art are so great that it can easily disable those who might bring politic reason to this faith.  That would be a shame.  I can imagine if too great weight is given such angry raving, even wise rhetoric would be subdued beneath insurrection, because a bishop may fear to disagree with is claimed to be God’s thunder. Such a bishop forgets our Logos arose with Jesus, who was an entirely quiet and modest man.  Jesus’ gift was not advice to war, but wisdom about living in peace and wonderful new meanings for death, and our lives before it. 

There is a custom in Rome. When you give a young man his first sword, you hand him the hilt, your own giving hand grasping its blade so that the aiming point of the sword is to oneself.  The anonymous “John” hated Rome so much he failed to comprhened where all swords must come to aim, and the value of no swords at all.  Such men as John invite retaliation, become the lodestone toward which sword’s points are swung.  It may be that no member of this assembly will heed me, for you may understandably dislike Rome, however much it has benefited you.  Pain inflicted outweighs memories of the good. Our task is beyond courage, it is, as any general’s, to plan strategies and consider tactics. The Elders can talk to you about that which you already know, the competing texts, parables, miracle stories, the almost Odysseus-like drama of Jesus who was not, I think, in any way a dramatic man but for truths, treasures, courage, wisdom and the tragedy of knowing how much sacrifice mankind requires to be saved.

A General As Priest?

I would be as much your general as your priest In my talk today, I offer disturbing counter views, and, refrain from miracle stories and other magnificent promises for the waiting soul, nor pleasing entertainments for our selfish selves which seek perpetuation indifferent to worthiness.   Today I offer little of the other worldly, for that understanding, or its poised potential,  is already within you. I say that with certainty. You need no bishop for its generation, although all moving toward the further experience of God wisely receive counsel on the proper preparation for that. Not all the voices one hears in ecstasy are divine. Foolish and idiosyncratic noises can intrude.  As we all have observed, lunacy and anger are also noises, which, because they can be so close within us, can contend with the divine.   God is there if you receive him.  A priest can do no more than tell you to be your care’s counsel in testing authenticities, that inundation in tranquil joy itself will be a proof when the sacred is present.

A good general anticipates enemies. We can ill afford any The Devil is sufficient but it is our own mask he wears. Without us he would be invisible.   I regret that the anonymous cowardly John is one of the best illustrations of the ‘not to’ of the wise.  We are not to incite to enmity, not to use magic to summon God or terrible visions, nor become too attached to the image of Satan who figures too large in cause and blame. If we are wise vis-à-vis Rome a religious fury is unnecessary.  Consider that he sets the battlefield outside ourselves. That is too easy.  The battle is always in and with ourselves first, and then with a contrary world.   By making the world a stage where the “other” as  Satan is scripted large, any real Satan is overlooked.  Think as if you were the Devil, which nature makes it easy enough, at least partly, to be.  You would plot your work not in angry art exaggerated as revelation set far away, but right here in a workaday world, our own.  No John of fictions needs tell the Devil where his best work is done; the Devil is a competent fellow, he sets his work very close.  He is, insofar as we use this image to explain things, quite a general himself, for he distracts us from best battlefields within, and from our duties.

Prophets in the Assembly

Since Hebrew and then with Paul’s time  and many following, most assemblies have had the experience of local prophets and their dramatic visions, sometimes frothed warning.  Paul knew that division could be introduced from many sources, whether foolish, mad, self-dramatizing or diabolical.  (We must allow that disagreement, other paths, are none of these, and require our respect, and, when that is invited, that gentleness in disputation which I counseled. It has been the custom of some assemblies to honor any prophets, to welcome their speech as revelation, to marvel that a vision of God, presumed inspired, enters our chambers. It is taken as renewal, communication then and there with the holy. 

I reject for sake of unity,  and sanity, any one man’s visionary invention or preternatural claim when he would impose such a noisy God on an existing assembly.  We must not deny him, or her- for women excel in the holy- the experience of glory within that person, or as many silent conversations with deity that fortune and piety allow.  Unhappily, religious scrutiny is not an Eastern trait, whereas Rome care too little about religion at all, but as loyalty.   I tell the assembly that their private imagination is a beautiful thing, the art of which I spoke before. The prophet’s excitement that may well be welcomed as spellbinding theater, but, with Paul, I, as commanding now, say not here allowed as vision insisted up as received truth applicable to what others should believe. Yes, what is true in the art of the prophet may be more widely useful. There is yet no immediate test for the competence of news prophecy outside the wisdom that tradition has developed, so best we resist the temptation to argue. As for the drama in it, the excitement conveyed, bravo, but here I ask for less public spontaneity. In requiring that, a kind of normalcy that respects tradition, and is careful about invention,  it is important not to sterilize the seeds within you from which grow the essentials of a personal God. As with our silences, prayer, our privacy is a great host welcoming the sacred. 

In Mysterion and Sacramentum:

What we are then in public worship and care, and what we may know and experience within, are complementary and reciprocal.  These are joined in the great moments of inspiration, passage celebration,  oath and commitment,  and in each we are tied always to the Other, the One, God now by that name. Such celebrations were already known to you who were earlier initiates in other religions, whereas among us they  slowly taking ritual form , as you and I and all who are so blessed, search how best to receive and be with God, to fix, if you will, the bond between our souls and divine Grace,  to be with Him with us.  Examples are whenever God’s hand, Jesus’ words, seem to touch and ignite us in special union, on  those special, inspiring occasions, as in the Eucharist, baptism, marriage, and attended dying. We have no encompassing word yet for all of these, which, because of the Presence felt and sacred intent known, we, with the earlier Greeks, might well call “mysteries”.  I have been told that one bishop proposes we adopt, and sanctify, the term Rome applies to the binding oath, made in the presence of their gods,  of soldier to emperor, where the imperator is bound reciprocal, that “sacramentum”  (sacrament)   No doubt each assembly will adopt forms for ceremonies that it feels fitting.  Since the ritual is not a magical one, it does not summon or control any god but expresses our moment of special and enduring change, again we do must not argue about details of words or forms,  but commit ourselves to appreciation, surrender, gratitude in our public union and in our private one.   

No Proliferation of Miracles 

There is drama enough at the core of what a Christian believes, that one historical miracle and its world-revising consequence that we hardly need invite more of the hearsay sort the exuberance of enthusiastic, story-telling others reports.    There is good sense in a devout assembly who may well as one and together experience the thrill and wonder of God present within, our souls bonding,  and understood present in our fellows, and those special moments,  with what you may now wish to accept are “mysteries”, or allow as “sacramentum”. I find it marvelous that in most of these we are also joined in music, and us bishops seem slowly to be agreeing on the words a priest might best say.  It matters not what our own sensorium and spiritual reach may add, any more that we know only one’s own ears hear music however many others hear it the same emanations but will in their own fashions elaborate the essential beauty   One test is the agreement on its beauty, another that it brings joy,  another that the soul is a private, silent, experiencing self, respected as that. Even so we are communal beings who join other souls in dance, in the ceremony, when the music is played and there is a hall, which brings us together to feel delight in one another’s hearts and souls joined.  Think also of God as musician and all of us in active harmony with his music, the gift He has given us of hearing and singing, amplifying the wonder and beauty of Him in our community. 

You will have understood that underlying my words is Ignatius’ rule of union with diversity allowed within that  conformity  necessary for assure we remain together.  A Roman high commander,  and I was that for a very long time, knows that in his army there are many tribes and tongues, all become one force through common instruction and one Latin. Our ranks are open to any ethnicity,  provided the person of him brings excellence, and loyalty. We here are the same, although God defines excellence, although hardly in abnormal ways. Here in Antioch we speak Greek together, and as an assembly in that larger “army” of Christians, we abjure military images, for we are worshippers, pilgrims and gentle evangelists.  Even so, since we are learning our best ways, words, texts and, yes, management,  that newness makes us frail. We  have been before and can be again shaken by disagreement, these, when righteously held, are prone to extremes.  We must not enjoy such individualism as any public imposition.  We must, as with Rome and its armies,  upon having now secured the sustenance of faith, this food for living, our souls, and the future, we are well provisioned to commit ourselves to the essential mission of survival and growth,  thus, as I have said so many ways and so many times before, to secure Rome as Christian,  and once that and so immensely bettered in itself for the Good,  in becoming Roman we become no more than our already selves, but a bit prouder in having converted so many now lucky neighbors, yoke brothers.  Your general then, this S. Cornelius your Bishop, puts to you this sensible and enriching vision of the future. I need no “intelligencers” of the sort generals employ to know that in this assembly, as elsewhere,  such politics of fact are less exhilarating that the fantasies of violent triumph which such as the coward John exhorts, at least the Jews, to entertain.  Christian martyrs are your examples of devout defiance. John, in the scraps of him I have seen, exhorts you all to martyrdom. He is some brave centurion who hides away, like pirates in an island cave,  o scribbling exhortations to others to die.  I stand before you. I do not exhort,  I command you to unity and love, to pitying Romans you will come, thnrough your own goodness, perhaps not theirs, to love them.


Beware “Revelations” Giving Dangerous Advice  

We must understand John’s fury and fantasy were a passionate artist’s reaction to the slaughter of Christians and Jews by our recent and hateful emperor Domitian. Domitian truly believed himself god, and in demanding his own worship, showed us the extreme to which unbridled power can bring a man.  (Suetonius who wrote of these emperors was, safely, afterwards the first to be eloquently brave as biographer) Domitian insisted he be referred to and addressed as “Lord and God. ” Domitian was a dangerous man for any around him, but particularly for far away- mostly here in Syria, Jews and Christians adamant in their faith, and in their open disgust at Domitian’s cruelty, ego and impiety. Domitian killed them as he many as he could when they refused to acknowledge his godhead.  Most Romans, as common sense folk, denied it as well, but as common sense folk they held their tongues and avoided incitement and the excuse this lunatic could use to kill them. Not so, the more passionate Jews and Christians who were easily identified when, upon being commanded,  they refused the formality of respectful ceremonies before the Roman gods. (He also oppressed the Stoic philosophers, although not so bloodily as he did his own Consuls, cousins and the like).  Here the martyr’s piety was not God- serving, but opportune feed for this human beast.  Happily, it was common sense Roman knights in his entourage, including his own wife, who conspired successfully to assassinate him.

As a`general more than pretending a pious bishop,  I applaud the assassins more than the martyrs.  The martyrs brought no good, only pleasure to a vicious lunatic.  The conspirators, a once-loving wife included, brought some safety and decency back to Rome. And so, yes, as with the Apollonian motto of “all things in moderation”, so it is with admonitions to Christian love, meekness, only gentle disputation and unity.  When a general rule for the good works so as not to oppose, thus nourish, great evil,  we must,  in concert as in great conspiracies,  allow the rule of kindness be excepted. There is great danger in proposing this,  for all manner of destruction will be unleashed if the argument is used self-servingly or kindship feuds..  Here you must be philosophers,  common sense Roman Christians.  Some killing, as the Greeks understood in proposing tyrannicide (as with Domitian), and some wars are justified.  As to when, and against whom, that is most painful moral debate,  for which right law serves as best arbiter tested over time and guarded by tradition.  

There may be those yet in this assembly, we do have the continuing reminder of Ignatius death with us, who, disliking yet another bishop,  or some competing sect such as Gnostics, or religion such as Jews, will summon these words of mine in justification of heinous action. As your general and your bishop,  I command you not to do so.  No, I am not lunatic, those resolved to evil, especially in the spirit of righteousness which is a deafening curse, will of course be deaf,  and will of course do as they will,  ever so many justifications supporting. Those who could not look at blue eyes earlier,  those whose ears now are deaf,  those now whose hands sweat righteousness’ own beads of glistening poison, those who thrill in their hate of Jews, or Romans, or any of their neighbors, those like that have only one sense left, it is neither nor moral, nor common.  It is blood lust.  I have asked you all to pity the Romans. I ask us all now to pray for those upon whom the blood lust feeds.

Will I, this blue eyed authority, this stranger here be before you, this Roman of me whom some of you must inevitably fear, even loath, do you lust for my blood, for me to be your vengeance’ sacrifice?  We are all come of savage of races earlier practicing that, as Jesus was victim in our own times. Not for my sake, but for yours,  I pray it be not so.    

Again, Understanding the Romans 

We must all acknowledge that these gods, a Minerva, Jupiter, are drained of life. If they existed in a more lively way, that was on Olympus, not in modern Rome.  But as myths and symbols they are by no means unimportant.  Their statues, temples are revered as guardians of our Roman identity, and the source of hoped-for strength. Our high priests, the altar –serving “herons”, the temple-guarding priestesses may not be in awe of statues as gods, but they are Romans in awe of Rome, and in a way, themselves. We are all, in some such way, superstitious. Cause is assumed.   Such superstition, or causal uncertainty, is not enough for a mind religious, or one given to art and music, or science.  But, consider the Roman, empty of faith, unloved by any god, unpurposed but by Rome’s formalities and immediacy. What are they to do or be, except to people, politicize, magnify the standing stone?. On that they stake all.

Read Virgil who in his poetry sings a lively song befitting our guiding muse, for in Virgil ‘s song are the rhythms and the lyrics of our Roman glory.  Virgil beautifully  (unless one has read Homer and knows to what heights epic poetry, shorn of patriotic duty, soars) tells Roman origins, virtues, duties, our epoch and manifest destiny. Virgil thrills any Roman rich enough for pride, close enough to wine, plunder and high rank for benefit.  Virgil also tells us what we, bound in this grand and magical identity, have, good and bad, become.  Read Virgil and sing with him.  Sing Virgil to learn in your heart his is a sadder song, for ours, by which I mean the upper classes, the army, prosperous burghers, the mob close enough to the troughs of generosity to be bought and fed, even for who think themselves satisfied, ours, Virgil’s, is by no means an altogether happy saga.  

“Hard and lonely” wrote Virgil, is the rule of Empire. All of us holding Roman power, especially in the provinces, share elements of that life.  Civil officers here are called upon to investigate and judge matters upon which live’s rely, and sometimes are called upon to sound the decreeing words of death.  We are prepared.  Almost all who serve administratively in provinces have learned to kill efficiently. It was done proudly, until Hadrian’s peace,  on battlefields of ever -expanding frontiers.  The legions’ banner’s eagles still glint in many an older administrator’s  eyes. Hadrian, Emperor, has changed that, checking our ambition and imperial destiny, stabilizing our frontiers, which our legions now protect but do not expand. One day these frontiers will be troubled by barbarian expansion, but that is not our excellent present.   Rome is at peace now, excepting Jewish revolts.  That she may fear Christians is a silly unease. But be mindful of Domitian, who know his Virgil, and seeing enemies everywhere, rather pitifully complained, “no one believes in conspiracy against an emperor until it has succeeded” In fact some were conspiring his death, and he was indeed murdered.  A lesson to Christians then about your executioners, do not provoke and die without complaint for the risk of us has been your choice. My solution is to remove the risk, but some of you will insist on spiritual heroics. Out of such situations of crises, the artist offers truth and wisdom in poetry..  I have said you are artists of God, I now propose for the talented among you, you make of us poetry, so we may beunderstood, perhaps appear beautiful.. “Hard and lonely”is itself worthy of exaltation.

Hadrian, generous prince traveling a peaceful empire does not admit to it, but I believe there are Christian values forming him as well. They complement his dominant aesthetic and philosophical Greek.  Take that to heart. We are a faith compatible with much that has gone before and is the best around us.  I assign more weight and gratidue than others do for this himself artistic emperor’s  sentiments that touch upon the Christian.  I take heart that these are a sign, portent, of future potentials for emperors, for Rome. 

Insofar as I am seer at all, I foresee, as I also I pray blessed by the peace of God’s g Silence,  I may dare conclude that it is not but a possessing fancy, but that truly one day  future emperors will be Christian. We here must do what we can to make that possible. I cannor order you, but I do ask you to consider the courses I have proposed in this and my other, now I will call them, “conversations” for the need for your response is implicit.

Think Again On Stories Well Told  

Well told history is the best of stories, It satisfies our curiosity, expands our knowledge, and, depending on our good sense to learn, gives exemplary instruction on actions and their outcomes, shows how other persons before us are like or unlike us now, and what the benefits and costs were of being such a person, or for that matter such a kingdom.  We must understand that if such actions and their contexts are repeated, so will be the outcomes. Polybius taught us these things. So did your parents.

There is another kind of story, although in two forms, either one provokes, yields the greatest of us, possessing our imaginations, filling our being with beauty, compelling us to move beyond ourselves to other and greater worlds yet capable of our grasp.  Both inspire and change us, for we move either in appreciative response or in awesome commitment to the beauty they are. Both forms are epics, both are poetry.  They tell of greatness, the powers of gods or god. We feel these real.  They tell of adventures, suspense.  Both are tragedies, but like history, contain the lessons for its avoidance, and if so fated ,guide us to composing ourselves for what awaits. We soar with the visions of grandeur sung to us, we sway to rhythms, weep with words that overpower, and we are made humble as we are also given the chance to become wise.  We learn not to scoff at the good and are given lessons in the price of hubris.   We are also to be respectful of seers. In both we learn of our own potentials,  good and evil, given counsel to foster the one,  guard against the other,  and to act ,  know it is good to look within oneself, not expecting to find only virtue.  We learn that we may nourish what can be  best within us.  We are a garden then, the story paints our future fruit and blossoms, tells how others have best tilled their soil, planted those good seeds,  and if the story is religious, has advice on the choice and propitiation of sources of fertility and benevolent weather. 

Homer, and the following Virgil,  are the more beautiful poetry. They tell us, beyond myths of our origins and our fates implicit in these, of events in this world, and why great history must be read, how doom can be fated when our formation is our destiny. With Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, we learn of the intervention of partisan gods, showing  Olympians unreliable because selfish, whimsical, vainglorious and competitive. Poetry has taught us the merciless insufficiency of gods whom humans created as exaggerated models of themselves.  These stories then are about the danger of  false creations as phantasmagoria upon which we rely. Under these conditions, even in magnificence we are victims. We are alone with incurable tragedy accompanying us.   

In the other story, the truly religious, where there is a compact with a high god and ourselves, we are not alone.  God accompanies us. Fate as inevitability is diminished.  Tragedy remains. and while palliatives or prevention are counseled as found in parable,  prayer,  prophylactic conduct and final composure,  none are guaranteed. We are then still alone and yet, contingent upon what are yet mysteries and other uncertainties, also not alone  This is the gift of the religious story, the Hebrew story, our in -progress Christian story.  In its songs and books, the whimsy of fate is further bound; we learn our sphere is not limited to what the eyes can see of and in this world.  In truth and gratitude we learn we are not just alone, we know some limit to tragedy, but we seek to be an honest religious story, so we no make no claim as to life itself radically changed, where there is no pain, no betrayal, no shock, no war, no disability, no death. The religious story is of goodness,  protection, solace and hope.  It is not, when rightly written or understood,  lunatic.  

You have foreseen there is only one religious story, among all that I have heard and read, which seems central for Christians. It is an ingenious one.  In it he whom the baptizer baptized is fated to turn the ignominy of his life’s end,  being an outcast hoist nailed on a cross, into promise, virtue, glory and proof of all encompassing love, all this in one telling. (Although again, there are many and competing versions hereabouts).  There is genius in so shaping a story, some now evangelically say God’s own as original intent, being pattern maker and product all at once. That story, however its forms since there are many artists and devoted writers come to their tasks, will work new meanings into Jesus’ words, or indeed, contribute inventions of new events, visions, conversations, into an ever larger book.  Inevitably artists and the debating devout will contest the architecture of this, our temple of belief.  It must be that mansion of many rooms.  Beware of the mean-minded who close the doors to rooms in that mansion, or claim it all for themselves,  who put the torch to it.  You understand than the beauty and the danger of the religious story.  By no means dare it exclude other stories, whether philosophical, scientific, artistic and literary. Keep in mind a mansion has many windows; we must look at all the views they offer. Nor, by no means, dare we try to freeze our story in the insufficient ‘now’ of us.  So, as new stories arise, we will need teachers to interpret them.  We use common sense in selecting those teachers, we want none who are jealous of wisdom,  who delight in firing mansions,  or sealing its windows. 

It is our religious story which is, as we enact it in kindness to all, is  our particular duty to teach Romans. Some of your despise, others of you fear Roman power. I have told you, I tell you again, with Hadrian as imperator, and our own goodness our shield, we have nothing to fear. Some still insist the Romans are our enemies, and further ,while secretly reviling them,  but one must be meek and exemplary in their presence. I say that Christians behaving well need have no enemies, for indeed those thought to be that are their students, are future Christians whose goodness of life on earth, and afterwards promised in Heaven, are in our teaching, demonstrating hands. Look at a Roman subject and see yourselves.  We do not mock the stone symbols so dear to them as powers sustaining Empire, the loss of which they fear so much. Let us understand their fears, honor their insufficient beliefs while overwhelming them with the truth of our own, for in it and through us they will overcome fear. We need no martyrs, we work for converts.  We need no enemies nor is their need to be our enemies.The two empires, God’s of the other world and this, Rome’s only of this, are to be joined. That task, succoring the world, not feeding wild beasts, is ours.

I put it to you, for any man’s feet must be on the ground, and in his mind, questions rising higher than the ground..  Be that so, might not the story we conceive centered on the stone Roman gods, arouse pity, some love for the hard and lonely life? Think of baby born to a slave but turned over to a stone mother.  The babe will know no caress, no rhythmic rocking, no high tones of mothering, snuggling sounds, these teaching the infant the rhythm of speech.  Even though fed, such a babe will likely die. If it lives, it will have a stone mask for a face, a depressed or depraved character, and will be a candidate forh unfeeling, or wildly sensational, Roman slaughetr, debauchery and assassination. Think of Christians as mothers to babes who may yet be saved,  as mothers whose love makes impossible that the babe grow hard and lonely to bcome one more executioner. 

I am not one to protest execution as such, when a case of a bad man is properly brought before the magistrates.   I have been an executioner magisterially myself, having been summoned to that as ranking Quaestor Executive to the Governor.  I was an expediently condemning judge, and without my protest, for Roman law is good and is to be obeyed.  It fails only when corrupted or in lacking adequate codification.  Law also  fails when it is intolerant, not of crime but of differences, when the evidence is the lawmaker’s fear, not events as`evidence proving its grounds. When that occurs, I protest on behalf of Christians, but will not for rebelling, legion-destroying Jews, however brave and Yahweh driven.  Yet at this moment, I ask myself as a child who had a stone mother, would I have grown to be as I am, content to order executions,  the most recent of which, that of Simon Magus, gave me satisfaction, had I earlier been wet-nursed in Jesus’ love?   I don’t know. 

I have now disclosed to you this Bishop born of a rock-like mother, indifferent to public offerings to hollow gods, comfortable with the slaughter of war, proud of the peace that Rome has brought to its conquered world, and certain that Christianity will remain but a tenuous, vulnerable private society unless it adopts what Rome practices by way of administrative excellence. Adopts, adapts, and overcomes. This Bishop has set before you his agenda. As your Bishop General I will not be moved to any strategy but its ardent pursuit. I like to think of it as the practical politics of joy, decency, kindness, and by no means insignificant,  survival and then exansion. We are where Julius Caesar was, at the Rubicon, deciding, marching,  overcoming  Others, agreeing, might say our goal expresses the politics of “love”  What I propose and expect is grand enough, grandose some will say, but “love”is a superlative demanding caution, not in the fact of its exercise, but in the pretense of that. 

It is also the politics of embrace without disgust, as Jesus taught. As I look about this assembly I see very few who are really poor, for you are already a middling crowd somewhat luckier in life, and I suspect, much more astute. From your daily observations you know well those less fortunate condemned to their hovels on fecal filthy, dark, garbage-carpeted dangerous alleys.  Pity those ill, and those compacted around them, in their moaning, shrieking stench- filled chambers crowded with the miserable, vomiting, worm and puss disgorging, bleeding, crippled and deformed, gasping for air and light denied in putrid death- dedicated chambers where those fate-sentenced will too early mourn and depart, never knowing  unguents, chrisms, costly herbs, other balms to ease their for the agony, contortions and death.  I foresee no great difficulty in bringing these poor, who constitute most of Rome and its crowded cities of empire into a Christian fold. But we must be ready for them, as was Jesus,  without aversion, and repulsion. Yet mind you, sensible selfishness must accompany selflessness. You must yourselves remain healthy, clean. You will care for yourselves as you do for others. All of politics is the use and pursuit of strength.  There are many aspects to that, your welfare is one, as is your faith, as is your notable charity, and to come, our organization as a unity stronger than any of its parts. We are and intend to be weak only respecting weapons of war, cunning, exclusion, darkness. You need be no general to see what strategy is compelled. 

Your good strengths council you be good example and nourish that persuasive conciliation that I will preach and further in my own action. Most importantly,  I have laid our conciliatory intentions before the Emperor directly. I do not disallow he may one day appreciate that it is as essential for Rome to know the good.  We must show him, and all Empire, that Christianity is that so it may become, as Bishop Ignatius foresaw;  catholic as universal.  We have here a moment of immense opportunity, for the Emperor could not oppose a kinder Rome,  he is, after all, schooled on Plato and the value of philosophers as kings.  Indeed I would not be surprised should he one day, far ahead, choose a man with that honed potential to rule Empire with committed wisdom.  

It is utterly foolhardy, vainglorious, under such an excellent emperor as Hadrian, given the peace and tolerance we enjoy, to provoke with shows of rebellion,  the roots of which are in that drama of martyrdom, that imagined moment of your own staged glory for no prudent cause at all.  Such of you will find no glory in loving Romans rather than yourselves as testimonial spectacles, no excitement for the ego in presuming God favors your drama over patient charity to others, over the politics of love, Some, many? of you will oppose me. Take your arguments on this, or other policy,  to the Elders for their wise deliberation. I will hear the Elders in any advocacy on your behalf.  If a century or more of you oppose, and the reason of it does not persuade me, I will depart in all good will, for with such evidence of dissent I will not be the one to fracture, to disassemble this assembly.  My recourse is to my private garden. In the meantime I am firm in this my authority which I base on the command you have bestowed upon me. I do warn you most seriously, as one far more experienced in the world than any of you, and as firm in faith likewise, that should I depart you, the moment that Rome becomes Christian, will be delayed by years too long to forecast.  That delay means that Christians will not be safe from the slaughter of mad emperors, that there will be martyrs aplenty among good folk with no great wish for it. As for mad emperors, or simply bloodthirsty or mistaken ones,  for there will inevitably be more of these until a the rule of Jesus also rules imperial succession,

Heed me in this. If not me, then much later a man such as myself, a true Roman, military, commanding, aristocratic must come to the work, and assurance, of the Christian conversion of the Empire.  I do not expect immediate success, should you lend yourself to my politics of love, survival, expansion,  for empires changed by attitude’s altering change more slowly than by traumatic conquest of arms.  But Ignatius’ understanding, and now my presence has begun that process inevitably begun but, as long as you remain weak in the politics of understanding,  cannot guarantee its end, a Christian and Roman shared triumph.  

No emperor will build a Trajan’s carved arch of triumph to celebrate such an entirely humane victory. Hardly. The arches will be seen in on the upper curves of lips of millions of mothers and babes.  There will be no need for generals as bishops, and as for bishops themselves, why, they may even talk less, and be seen more readily to smile. To vote their riddance will one day even be useful. I say not so now. Now, after your having seen my hard stone face, you will realize a new kind of wonder adding to the ancient seven; smiles of goodness on most Roman faces.   Heed me, my children, allow now that the building of smiling arches proceed. The Romans build their triumphal arches of stone. We will make them of our faith and conduct, thus happiness. I bid you not too closely to follow Paul, not too deeply to accuse yourselves of sin, not to be preoccupied with your missteps, weakness, but to realize our loving God in Jesus is already our salvation, for the means of it are here. I pray none of you are so undeserving, as not to appreciate the miracle of your being here and now, beneficiary of the historicity of Jesus, of God among us, of what that gift bestows, if only you are open to it, if only you make the effort\of being the gift bestowed

 I say then,  allow your happiness. I bid you smile”


Previous Chapter    Next Chapter