Talk in the Garden
Members of the Assembly , upon hearing the terrible news, came from all around to gather in the garden. Later, as news spread through the city, crowds would gather on the street. The Governor had, upon first information, sent as his show, the useless dandies of the palace guard, then soon after and sensibly expecting crowds, he sent several centuries of legionnaires should there be controlling work to do. The Governor, acting more sensitively than ordinarily, had ordered the legionnaires out from the barracks of Legion II Trajana, Trajan’s legion in which S. Cornelius had served, to which legion the Emperor Hadrian had appointed S. Cornelius, Tribune, not so long ago.
The soldiers had lost one of their own,, earlier their commander of centuries, now their Tribune. Regularly and recently, he had worked out with them in their physical exercises on the Field beyond the Palace, that Field of Mars. The soldiers’ faces were grim, some eyes of theirs tearing. Legionnaires are the most loyal, possessive, prideful of men and when having cause, the most dangerously effecive. Bishop now Christian or no, and by now some of Legion II Trajana were Christian and for them he was their Bishop murdered. If ever men wanted vengeance, wanted the disturbed natural order to be restored by punishing those disturbing it, these were the men. Beyond the loss and insult of it, disturbance to natural order, its laws, was enormous, the world at risk because of that. Pity any rowdy in the gathering crowd who as much as breathed a slight about their once Senior Centurion, Tribune and, yes Bishop, all honor in each tittle to him.These legionnaires, disciplined and experienced, could control any crowd. At this moment, given events and their emotions- sufficient legalizing cause could always be found afterward- they could also slaughter them. In the aura of this place, there was no innocence until proven.
It was afternoon, growing late. The murder of a hero, a great, yes, eccentric, remarkable man-some remembered him presiding over the Cretan games so long ago, some had had their cases decided, always fairly, by him sub governing,- is a tragedy for those close. But for the mob responding to the news of it, it is exciting, an intimate entertainment, for to be close to another’s death is intimacy, and when a murder of this unique sort, the mystery enshrouds the murmuring crowd, yes, even in Antioch, where killings are common enough, none like this killing, be assured.
The Presbyter Balthus sought vainly to quiet the congregation milling about in the extensive garden. If any, he was the man to do it, although his was misshapen rank among us for one not committed Christian, but even so, closest to the Bishop. I have spoken of him as mostly a rude, independent fellow, vulgar even in our plebian eyes, respected although hardly liked, yet I know now, also vulnerable to feelings. He had set palace guards at the gate to see to it that only assembly members entered our grounds. He introduced himself to the II Trajana’s commanders outside, arranged liaison and met the messengers, agreed on signals should foment arise. A retired German Auxiliary Centurion, aid to S. Cornelius, was respected by Trajana II’s centurions. Whatever occurred would be handle. The Lord’s House itself, the fronting door to the worship hall, Balthus had locked. The slaves were sent off to their quarters.
Balthus was accustomed to command. He proposed to those gathering in the garden that they pray. He knelt among them, which prayer was hardly his custom, for although he had been sprinkled Christian by baptism, he made no claim to it. He could hardly be called pious. This command to prayer was proper, but expedient.. He remained aloof from us. Even now, seeing him act his prayers, we Elders could hope he would be touched, might yet become be a godly man
Helen had been immediately summoned from their house not too far away where she and her husband, the Bishop, lived. Balthus told her the terrible news. I told you she was stiff with discipline, although these are times for tears. He led her to sit in the quiet in the always dusk of the side chapel where Cornelius, “Mule”, they both called him that in intimacy, had died. Helen remained there rigid, frozen, until the mothering woman took over her care.
There, seated in mourning in the transept, these sacred precincts, we inside heard the voices from the garden, through the windows of the adjacent hall, the nave. The doors were closed, but one could sense the gathering, the stirring, agitation, outside.
Attend to these voices! There are lessons and mysteries in them.
Hear the voices from the garden:
It was a woman’ voice, shrill, by no means pleasant.
“The false presbyter Balthus, sent there by the Devil who covered the Bishop’s eyes to his evil, but whom I know to be a palace spy, he was the last person to be with him, although he denies it. That in itself is proof. I myself have a relative in the palace who knows the head of the palace guard, who knows the Governor who, he was told this on good authority, offered a reward to Balthus for killing the Bishop. Did you know Balthus is still on the palace roll? He never left their pay! He lives there, did you know that? Oh, he has served them well, this spit of Satan, killed our Bishop whom he betrayed. He is the most treacherous of false friends. He is Judas reincarnated, don’t you see, a very Judas sent amongst us.
Listen to me!. The Devil is good with lies, very good, The Devil’s silky tongue is coated with honey, he flicks it down your throat and it slithers it into your heart where your soul is, drawn to Hell . Often times he titillates your private parts with it, that’s how deep that honey tongue descends, and doing that, you come with him readily. Oh yes, I know how the Devil works, indeed I do. He slides his others parts in you too,, oh ever so cold parts into your own parts at night, oh yes he does, he does, oh yes” This excited voice, reflecting on what might be satisfactions, paused for the drama of it, went on with intensity,
“Balthus does the same, that sinful man, oh yes, I know his sin alright. I know he killed our Bishop for the money of it, for the spite and jealousy in him. and now he’ll be back in the palace as Quaestor himself. He will remain chief of spies himself, for with what he has done, how could he trust another? He knows such conspirators devour themselves. He’s got my daughter pregnant you know, although she denies it was him. T he Devil has had her too, oh yes, had them all one way or another, but the Devil knew he’d never have our Bishop, and our Bishop would rule on behalf of Christ, be emperor of a Christian earth, our Antioch its capitol. He’d have been, yes I tell you, sitting on the left hand side of God, Jesus floating above him. Yes, I have the vision of it. My visions don’t lie.
I say we kill Balthus, the false Presbyter, kill him now while he’s still here in the Lord’s House pretending those tears over the Bishops body, the body with stigmata just like Christ. That is what they are you know, stigmata of Christ, not an ordinary knife did him in, it was the cross he was nailed to, right there in our Lord’s house. The Lord saw to it that the stigmata of Christ were the only bloody marks on him. Only those of us faithful may see them. Quickly I tell you, find someone to kill that pagan Presbyter, Balthus. He is not one of us. Few are so chosen. After that, one day soon, we will kill all the pagans, I know it’s what Jesus would want.
Jesus talks to me, you know, whispers with his tongue in my ear, oh sweet sweet Jesus, lamb of lambs, It’s Jesus by day, Satan at night, Oh, I am a knowing woman. Listen to me; don’t stare at me like that! Don’t walk away from me like that. Jesus screams for you men to do it, kill the Judas presbyter who killed our Bishop, God’s intended emperor. You crazy fools, don’t grab me like that, no, no, leave me alone.”
The voice Fades, many concerned other voices are around the woman. Some are crying, others curse. Her last words heard, “He is Judas, I tell you, can’t you hear Jesus saying so?”
We can hear the babbling woman being dragged away.
Antistrophe: The death of the Bishop is cause for madness. It is the Devil who tempts to kill again
A weak voice, quavering, an ill woman it would seem, protesting the first woman’s accusations. “Balthus is a good man. His sharp humour bothers some of us, his honesty bothers others. I saw him when he was told of his friend’s death. I saw him in the worship hall. There were tears welling in his eyes. He is blamed because he held himself apart from, because he was the friend of the Bishop, but he is every bit as good as we are. Where is the Jesus in you, sisters and brothers, that you are so ready to accuse, so full of spite?”
An answering voice, soothing gentle, a man’s, perhaps her husband’s: “Yes, I know my dear, and, even if I didn’t see Balthus at the critical time, I know him to be good. But one must keep in mind, given the terrible Judas charge, that Judas, some say Jesus’ best friend was chosen by God to suffer almost as Jesus did, for he hated his own work of betrayal, but it was commanded of him the Lord. After Jesus died, the stories are clear that Judas also cried. I make no charge against Balthus. I have lived in the Prince’s world a while. There are many causes for killing, and many sources of tears. It may not be for you, my dear, to choose among them.”
Strophe: Many causes for killing, many wellsprings for tears. What is the beginning of a story? How it forecasts the end, that is a difficult matter. Tears shed are only liquid, they need shed no light.
A man’s voice:” I saw it happen in the back of the garden. I saw the earth open and Satan take the false Bishop straight down to the fires of hell. I could see it all, hell right there so near us, the very heat of it, and the Devil pushing the false Bishop down into the fire, I saw it all, saw the Bishops blasphemous tongue become a flame itself. saw, vipers swarming over him, oh yes I saw that fornicating adulterous wife , that Trojan beast Helen kissing Satan, Kissing Satan, exchanging tongues. I saw their lower bodies open, exchanging all desires, all liquids, done in all possible positions, all unspeakably vile. I saw Satan cold cocking her while she waves, throws kisses which transmute to stinging arrows, arrows plunging into the Bishop whom she so easily seduced. She is someone’s archer, I can tell you that, those arrows are true, those kissing arrows of hers from Hell. Marriage indeed, they were married in her home in Hades, Dis himself, Pluto officiating. If she is as ancient as is claimed, her father was Pluto, if she is of our times only, her father is Satan. I have heard that where her two first toes should be, she has instead a cloven foot. If any of you be brave enough to capture and strip her, I will prove to you her foot, and yes, you will see the red fire leaping from her private parts, that fornicating fire.
I saw the Bishops arms all bound about by vipers, I saw a dragon crawling toward that Roman with his great fanged mouth ready to bite off those so aristocratic private parts, for yes, he had an erection in the form of a green scaled serpent which was ejaculating tiny demons. Oh my, how our once mighty Bishop was screaming in fear. Above me in the garden there were ribbons of angels, all singing as they came near to us, all smiling. I tell you, Judgment Day is near “
Antistrophe: Murder is a vile thing, it lures vileness from depths. There is unclean joy in hate
That voice in the garden pauses, as angry man’s voice is heard, ‘Hey, what are you doing to my sister there? You can’t take her away like that! Who are you to say she’s possessed? No, leave her alone. Damn you, leave me alone, no, you can’t drag me away like this, No, No.. That strident voice fades. There is hubbub in the garden. some voices receding, others subdued, talking about miracles, or the devil himself. ”
Antistrophe: In crises madness multiplies. In crises gentle strengths grow. It is not crises which determine events, it is our response.
A man’s voice is heard: “This is a tragedy, a terrible murder. Murdering our Bishop on his own altar, a black sacrifice of the good to some terrible evil. First the holy Ignatius, now the holy Cornelius, both martyrs. God will love them the more for it. This assembly has been blessed with their holiness, two great men as our bishops. Antioch will flower with their reputation. The folk will flock to us to become Christian, for God’s miracle is at work here, martyrdom bringing new Christians to us. We must be the best of assemblies , the best of Christians for their sakes and the Lord’s. Bless them Lord, bless us Lord, for we are your servants. I will, as the Presbyter asks, kneel in prayer for his and all our souls, for the unity of this assembly, prayer even for those monsters who killed him. Please, let us not forget, foremost we are Christians.”
Strophe: For much we even yet are glad
A woman’s voice: “I saw it myself with my own eyes. My eyes don’t lie. I saw the Bishop above his body, laughing quietly, because like Christ he could not die. The Bishop did not die, he could not, for he was spirit. He had the face of Christ. Allow the truth I tell you, our Bishop was Christ disguised. The body is nothing; God can change it as he pleases. It is so; the Bishop was hovering over his body, angels all around him attending. When he was alive we learned from him. Now that he has passed over, we learn more; that he is spirit still with us, Jesus with us, oh, how we are blessed. Come,” There was much rustling in the garden her voice again, summoning, “Come let us all hold hands, a sacred circle, a magic circle that keeps all evil out. Let us pray over the blessing we have had in Jesus coming amongst us. Oh we are blessed, thank you Lord”. A chorus of voices, all murmuring, “Thank you Lord, oh, Lord be with us, oh thank you Lord.”
Antistrophe: We are easily moved to the spirit, the Idea. Flesh is troublesome; some would put it behind us too soon
A competing voice, stentorian and rudely commanding: “You are all fools. This Roman snob was a pagan. His god was as mixed-bred as an alley cat with ten toms as fathers. ‘Apollo’ he praised,, ‘ground sacred over time’ he said. The Eucharist as reminding symbol not real blood and flesh, he’d have us believe. ‘Pity the Roman’s’ he told us, yea, I will, once I’ve cut all they’re balls off and reamed them with a red hot, sharp studded iron pole up their you-know-what. You can carry this ‘love’ crap, this ‘sacred history’ crap too far. I don’t know who did it, but the lads who done him in, and a right handy job it was too, bless them, they get free drinks from me anytime”
Strophe: Those whose affinity is to the unclean, however long unwashed, prefer their own foul smell to the fragrance of Christ.
Farther away in the garden, another voice: “I saw Mary mother of Jesus sitting right there next to the daphne bush, yes right there, see? You can see how someone sat on those leaves at its base. I saw Mary holding the Bishop, his head on her lap, she was smiling, her tears were falling on his face, His face was beatified, as was hers. Then they disappeared together. I heard angels singing. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing I will ever see in my life. I have seen Reincarnation, praise be to God”.
Antistrophe There is much beauty for those who comprehend it.
A male voice, heavy with Greek accent speaks: “This Bishop, he knew the good, the good in the old and in the Christ. He honored the memories of all the immortals. Yes, those others all around us, subordinate to the Sotor, the Savior, but we all know they are there. I tell you how close they are, how they loved this Bishop. I saw Hermes himself, Roman say ‘Mercury” but know nothing, for Romans are barbarians. It was Hermes Psychopompous I saw, he was leading, ever so kindly, the Bishop by his hand. They were talking. I could hear a few words, Know I heard all this with my own ears. It is so!
Hermes was saying, ‘The gods have sent me in thanks to escort you to Heaven. The Lord high God has sent me to tell you how proud he is of you, braver in accepting your martyrdom than ever when you were in battle. God knows your character, oh holy Bishop, you heard the footsteps quiet behind you, you reached for your sword, yes, God knows you keep it under your robes even when others could not find it not there, I know who took it from the scene to lessen your honor, but that cannot be done, you Roman warrior, Christ’s priest. God knew your thoughts, your compliance, if He willed your death, you honor him by accepting it, ever more honor to Him, I say. Then I heard Hermes, the messenger and shade-guiding god, go on, saying,
‘You will soon be talking to the One God yourself, but I, Hermes, His messenger during these transitions centuries, old ways to new, am instructed to tell you, you died the most honorable death a Christian might. You did not seek it out of vanity, you intended to confront and stop your assassins, but you , as few men do, were blessed to understand God’s will, that you be his example in Antioch, just as his Son was in Jerusalem. He wills: love thy enemy, wills peace, and wills you recognize your assassin as your wayward brother, whom it was not destined for you to slaughter. God will punish him yet while he loves him. Yours is the second Atonement. God loves you, Bishop.’
Yes, that’s what I heard. Oh, it was remarkable, this sometimes impish Hermes so quietly respectful. You know what? Olympian that he was, I saw this Hermes shaking that Cornelius hand. Here were two men who understood both worlds, so there they were, the Bishop who had crossed over, Hermes who crosses, makes a path through the, for him, permeable barrier. Think of it: these two immortals shaking hands!”
Strophe: The sacred remains sacred over all times. Worshippers give it names that fit their times, see it with eyes of their own time. The numinous is always there commanding us.
One voice, a woman’s from a far away corner. “He was but a man, this Bishop, but great in courage and vision. He was our faith’s first holy warrior. I say to you, see him as he was, our first holy warrior, dying an holy death on our battlefield. He was Tribune for our legions, his spirit will lead our march.”
Antistrophe: A warrior and holy yes, verily out of Abraham as well as Aeneas. There is no race of the wholly peaceful. Dare there be?
A woman answering her, a similar voice, as though a sister or a daughter.” The Bishop’s was a death any noble Roman’s should be, as he willed it for us to know and honor. He was no martyr ignobly condemned to be torn by beasts, hardly, he chose. He was our gladiator. I say here is God’s gladiator, his own sacrifice to show us greatness.”
Strophe: A patrician Roman patronizes his assassins when he allows his death. A great warrior chooses his own death. In this combining Bishop, the drama is God’s own, teaching that greatness lies in the decision made.
An old man’s voice, rough with aging, yet resounding strong, “You’ve left us, Bishop, don’t say you didn’t plan it all along. A tough old turd you were, like me, only richer. We fought together, Commander, you and I, good memories they are, the best of me soldiering in them. Well, you’ve toughened me Christian now,, lowly as I am,. Let those pagan Romans still pagan chew on what that that portends. God fare you, Bishop, old companion Godfart you are, on your way now marching to Heaven. You didn’t recognize me in the assembly- how could you, I’m ancient and stooped as I walk- but I was with you in Legion I Adiutrix long ago. No matter, my time is soon. I will see you soon enough again, this time we’ll both be young, you’ll recognize me alright, and we’ll down some horns of cheer, with an angel as the barmaid dispensing. Big tits, I bet, and a ready angel she’ll be too, I’ll bet. That’s why they call it “Heaven”. Do you remember? ‘Fart together’ was our maniple’s motto. Enough holy talk around here, I say. Sanctimony makes me sick. We all die, so what, and no regrets. We’ll storm heaven, we will. Ravish the angels, we will, like the old days when we stormed the walls of a long-resisting city. Convert the legions, we will, see us twist the tail feathers on the eagles atop our standards until they wear some sweet smile, they do. Hear the eagles scream, “Pax” and all that. Love you, Mule, love you, any man who served under you must. And a damn good Bishop-General you were too.”
Antistrophe: Good will and piety gripped in a rough hand are no less worthy. However coarse, a Christian solder stands tall before his Commander. Not every battle can be won by prayer.
A man’s voice, hard its tone: “The great grandfathers of the fools here who did this were the ones who stoned Christ on the way to the cross. Are we but eternal generations of fools? If God has hair and hands to pull it, he’ll be bald from tearing it, bald well before the Last Judgment. What kind of foul temper will a disgusted God be in by then? Save us from such fools!”
Strophe: A blind fool is a sighted man who covers his eyes. There can be no welcome for these so blind when they knock at Heaven’s door.
A snarling shout from the street, “Come conquer us Jews with your legions, will you, Roman? Tear down our temples, be bulls violating our women, cut off the balls of our Yahweh to sing soprano in a Christian assembly, will you , eh? Sew a pansy idol’s image on your banners will you, and try to sell the fake back to us, eh? We Jews, your subjects and slaves thank you so ever much, you Governor, Bishop, self-satisfied Christian and free. So much for that! Look out I tell you, there’s more to come than today; it’s a Jew’s knife still neuters your bulls…”
Antistrophe: Man is more righteous than his god, and his sword is bloodier for it
A cackling voice, was this woman’s, “A Bishop has as many enemies, surely more than friends. Both smile, but only one group carries daggers . You don’t weigh them equal on the scales, Emperors know that, but you weren’t noticing, were you Sweetie? A man that stupid is always going to die like you did, naïve, expiring sanctimonious last words out of his noble asshole. You farted sacred music on your way out, Dearie. Now sing me some Virgil, honey, use your rear organ pipe”
Strophe: Is it so, where there are Christians, count on enemies as well as friends?
A man’s voice. “We are part of a miracle. I saw Jesus walking in this garden. A Jesus, grey robed, longhaired, solemn, peaceful. Walking among the flowers. He turned toward me, can you imagine that, Jesus looked at me!! Aye, Jesus was here and he looking toward me but past me, gazing. His eyes saw the world. He said to me one thing, ‘Tell the people I have come to see my Mule again, as I saw him once before. I am taking him home with me, now he is joining me in Heaven.
He was there, this Jesus. I asked him, yes I dared speak to the Lord standing there so near me. I asked, “mule”? Who is this mule whom you the Lord say you once visited and now come to fetch? Tell me, please, oh Lord’. He looked at me as if I should know. I don’t, but I know I saw Him right there in the garden, in his grey robe, quiet, just there, His presence. Know it, all of you, a miracle. Jesus was here!
All of us, we must go down on your knees in thankfulness, that all of us are part of a miracle. Know this Christian assembly of Antioch has been blessed by the visit of the Lord, blessed by the wonder of His would escorting visit our Bishop. But I am confounded, what did the Lord mean when he spoke of his ‘mule”? I am a sensible man. The are no mules here in the garden, only out in the street. An invisible mule? Is that too a miracle?”
Antistrophe: Great, great wonders and awe. Whom among men is great enough to judge them?
Other voices in the garden agreed to the wonder of Jesus come for the Bishop, the blessing, and the miracle. None knew whom that “mule” of Jesus might be, but blessed indeed is our yoke brother who has seen the Lord, clad so humble, the Lord himself standing there.
Strophe and Antistrophe joined in chorus in the question: Whom among you know who the mule of Jesus might be? Light and heavy must be the burden the Lord’s mule carries.
There is a responding clamor of proposals, to which I pay no heed, for I, Joseph, now Jesus come, now fully believe, and I know who it is, the Lord’s own Mule.
There continued many contesting and also agreeing voices in the garden, but events superceded them. As for other accounts, all certain of themselves, saying, as most did, “I saw it with my own eyes.”
I, Joseph, already in great wonder, and some`little peace come to me, will quote no more from the garden talk. There is lesson in discrepancies. I will live acknowledging that on this earth, Heaven not yet, and no such experiences come to me as our Bishop had, I accept that many will be in doubt. How do I best to conceive what occurred? Do I blame the evil of it as solitary force? Or do I succumb to joy in being close to God’s will be done? What are the intentions of God? This simple old man of me may yet preach certainties, but after those so many differing voices were heard, I am instructed that in all Assemblies there will be doubt. For myself, luckier, blessed, I hold fast to my faith, for in and of that I am sure.
There was in the far side garden stood a woman dressed in a mourner’s black, that by respectful choice as sentiment and custom ordained, for she had other dresses, some colorful. One of these she had been wearing at the time her Bishop died, but conscious of custom and need ,she had changed into her new black dress, well cut and shiny as anthracite. Upon hearing of the murder, she had hurried to the Lord’s House to be of such service as she might, and through her presence, pay tribute to her Bishop This Mary had experienced many deaths, and understood the condition the Princess Helen would be in.. Long before the public ceremony, when Helen had come to see her husband, bloody but in prayerful pose, this Mary had come to Helen who held herself stiffly, the marble of her, and had not cried. However far apart their stations, this Marcy comforted the widow, moving her gently by her arm’s strngth, from the transept and its altar violatd by murder, bringing her to a great chair, ornately carved, which served as a Bishop’s throne during services, a great in which Helen’s husband had sat in ceremony, this chair now for the moment, Helen, here by the side wall of the now empty nave, this great hall in this ship of the Lord (“nave” is from the Latin “navis”, ship) .
One day long ago this same woman had sat beside a fountain , had sat beneath a statue of Tyche. She had been with three friends, all of them tired, even though the day had just begun. A Christian lady had come by, offering food and then an invitation to this House of their Lord. The other women seated with her by the fountain in front of the theater overlooking the grand avenue had refused even the idea of a visit. Life had made them suspicious of any offering of the good, for they had known none. This one, call her “Mary”, for it was the new name she took, had accepted the invitation. joining followers of Jesus. Her move had made for her a new life, and promising a new death as well.
Comforting a silent, rigidly standing Helen staring at the altar was not intended as a gift, simply an extension of the love of all mothers, and a sister now serving God. Helen, anguished, receiving the love from this stranger knew it as a gift, and was comforted. She could now cry. Later, at the public ceremony, her tears having flown, Helen was somewhat in command of herself, and such others as might require she command them. Also commanding Helen was sorrow, bottomless it was, and as if a foreigner possessing her, threatening every moment to defy her will and strength..
The Governor had arrived. We all knew his reputation as a fair- mannered, lazy man who approved crucifixion (mostly) only for those humiliories deserving it. The citizens know there is no anger in him, but also that he is too indifferent to be merciful. When he was not bribed to do otherwise, he acted (mostly) as the Roman law required. No Governor has ever before visited a Christian Assembly, nor the garden and small cemetery beside it.. He was most welcome.
Publius Marcellus, Dominator, Legate, Governor, spoke, as one would expect. He spoke not of God but Jupiter as God, and of S. Cornelius as loyal Roman, a kind of Roman priest for the Roman gods here in Syria. He reminded us, news to any Antiocheans who had missed being informed, that S. Cornelius, had been, by act of Emperor Hadrian himself, raised to the rank of Tribune of the legion Trajan had raised here, II Trajana. The Governor was working hard for a diplomacy he had never learned, this on behalf of the Tribune, to address the Tribune’s, as the Governor could put the best face on it, “affinity” society. He looked, primarily, at the widow, for she was a worthy gubernatorial audience, this Princess and, as all finally knew, former oracle priestess of Apollo. The Governor bent to Christians as he wished all present to “be bound in peace” and, the word came hard to a Roman Governor, “in the arms of your merciful god. One suspected someone else’s knowing pen- Balthus?- advised on politic language. The Governor would give such a speech with one eye to the crowd and the occasion for it, and the other, so much more consequential, on the Emperor.
P. Marcellus had been afraid of S. Cornelius, and so would be relieved by, no, be frank about it, be pleased, at his death. Only the suspicious, knowing that, might ask the normal Roman question, had the Governor a hand in engineering it? It was in his interest, capability, and easy deniabity, his ability to prevent investigation. A normal Roman asking that question would also know there would be no answer, unless of course, one is satisfied with rumour, which had already begun its whispering work.
In the meantime, a careful Governor pays due regard for the Emperor Hadrian, under whom governor’s heads roll off bodies as easily as cucumber is sliced, with a bit of the ‘popff” ,if stiff necked, more like a fresh carrot being sliced. This ease of execution by Hadrian’s order, whether loud or silent, differs not at all from his also common-sense wary, sane predecessors. “Sane” one says, because with the insane ones, heads were not cut as one might vegetables, but as imperial sport, a madness of slaughter. Be that the case, Hadrian’s protégé, S. Cornelius, husband to the Emperor’s particularly trusted and beneficiary oracle, must be mourned in all seriousness and propriety. The deepest sincerity is summoned and enacted on such occasions. This P. Marcellus knew and did well.
He repeated the story now widely known in Antioch and across Empire, not that S. Cornelius had ever told it, that Hadrianus Imperator was his special patron, S. Cornelius having saved his life, whereas his wife, when oracle, had delivered Apollo’s prophecy that Hadrian would become Emperor. P. Marcellus, in coming here, was hardly unmindful that hers with Hadrian was a tie that S. Cornelius murder had not severed. P. Marcellus must be positively unctuous before this widow Princess, for her power, through the gods and imperial gratitude, respect- and who knows how else she and Hardian might once have been connected, was consequential) Fulsome praise was bestowed on the deceased and his widow. In the minds of the growing crowd, the Christian assembly, heretofore almost unknown, had become an important place.
The crowds were growing on the wide street in front of the assembly house, there were thousands by no stretching down it, the soldiers were now a large contingent, armed and watchful, for Antiochean crowds are easily set to riot and to looting. The Governor was now being Legate in full panoply. Flanked by soldiers, including the extravagantly uniformed palace guard, and a retinue of his officials, it was an occasion, He spoke loudly:
“I have had a letter from the Emperor advising me that he approves all efforts to bind Christians closer to Rome. Honor our gods is the law, but no one asks Christians not to worship their own. That god, I am told, is Jupiter in one of his forms, all of his forms possibly conceived as the One.. The Emperor Hadrian and Tribune Cornelius shared much interest in Greek art and thought. The Emperor Hadrian has no problem conceiving of Plato’s One as the Christian God and as Jupiter under different names. If any of you wish to erect a statue to Antiochean Christ Jupiter that petition would be considered. We are all governed by deity. That is the sum of it. There is no conflict among worshippers using different names for the same god, over Empire we see that often, usually by locale. I warn Christians as to their duty, there must be no failure to honor Jupiter as such. I must consult Rome to learn if service to Antiochean Christ Jupiter will do as official tendence. I suspect not. Our gods who give Rome its strength must be properly served, S. Cornelius, as did your Jesus, recognized that.
The Governor was quite pleased with himself. His entourage clapped, the crowd cheered he looked at Helen expecting at least some nod of appreciation from her, but got none. P. Marcellus, who had already has a fight with Livia Drusilla who had not wanted him to come here at all, granted that Livia Drusilla was right in calling Helen, “that haughty bitch” The Governor sat down as protocol required, for lesser locals would also speak. What a bore. It was the price one paid for being Governor.
A simple woman, drab, seemingly old, but there was some trick in it to make out her face, for shadows and lights danced there, these as if alive, although no one watching could readily see their source, this woman was to the fore of the platform. The simply dressed, plain, woman, was quite poised, a bearing that invited respect. She was now standing near the Governor, here before this now great, still swelling, crowd. No one had earlier marked her presence in the entourage, or on the high garden platform that had hurriedly been constructed (the palace had sent the carpenters and the wood) when it was learned the governor had decided to come. There were chairs set for officials, although none but the Governor and Helen were yet seated. Perhaps, that is how it must be, this confident woman had been sitting to the left of the Governor, in that empty chair. In any event, standing now, the black-dressed woman leaned down to his ear. He listened. It would seem she was asking the Governor for permission to speak. A first speaker after the Governor and not the widow? She too seated in honor next to him? Who, so the mind of the crowd wondered, might she be ?
The Princess Helen sat, by protocol, on the right of the Governor. The Governor by their presence next to him obviously acknowledged the rank of both women, about each of whom there radiated command and, yes, around both an aura, mystery. Given so many torches, it was odd that on-looking eyes played tricks. As the people watched, the drab woman seemed to grow taller and, to the old eyes of Elders given first seats before the platform, had, one Elder saying and several others agreeing, “emanations.” ”So does the Princess Helen, one Elder claimed, also Helen. Another Elder nudged those next to him, “See, around Helen’s head a luminous disc, even red-tinting her hair as can also be around the sun, which as we know, illuminates Apollo’s chariot when suns areola glows through some moisture in the air. We have seen it happen. But look, the once drab woman seems also to grow lighter with her own radiance. Are these not wonders?” And yes, the Elders, for no others there looking saw such things, acknowledged these were indeed wonders, and this was a time of them.
The tall, once dull-black dressed woman , began to speak. Her voice was also a wonder, for it was melodious beyond any other. A near spell was cast over the audience as they heard her,
Hear her now: “Governor, I appreciate your courtesy and gratefully mark what you have said, and that you are here giving honor to this sad occasion. We are come to bury this warrior, mystic, tribune, aristocrat and high priest Cornelius. I say the burial plot will be special, as much Roman as Christian, for he belonged to all of us and always will belong to us all. We sense that in these new friends gathering here now, most of whom have never been near the Christian god’s house before. Knowledge of S. Cornelius, respect for his family and record, appreciation of his vision of a united world both strong and good, has spread. Such a world will be bound together, not divided. Names of faiths do not matter, but the fact of worship, awareness of the holy and personal virtue present everywhere does.
I propose we erect no great monument, build no mausoleum, but allowthat a carved stone marker is enough, of course flowers to be kept before it. In memory of S. Cornelius his words and life, that which he anticipated and foreshadowed which will come to pass, will be his monument.. I foresee another great and terrible earthquake, and yet more, which will destroy this Christian house, along with many others, but not destroyed his tended tombstone. You will know it by the paired sandal prints on it, pre-carved and telling an aspect of the scheme of things.. Most of you here when you die will carry memories of this day, as well the stories of a coming generation of you. This city of ours, even its ruins, will fade more slowly from memories, for Antioch has reached out over Empire and beyond, has this wonderful golden city, its ruins one day to be unearthed, but never reconstructed as we know it, The record of Cornelius will also be lost, but it will be rediscovered and, however inexactly, reconstructed.
The future, although not knowing us well, will be as with his vision, far-reaching and wide-embracing. As he was, we are, part of what has gone before, so are the godly visions of those who have gone before, for all are of the numinous. I speak for the old gods, and our present ones who will also be less than eternally immortal, but for writing, for that is the fate of gods, high or low, as is the fate of their people. Old gods are, nevertheless, by their deeds, legends, songs, patronage and wisdom, parents of the new, and intrinsic to all great visions, for nothing beautiful which has gone before is lost, rather, it is incorporated. Listen to songs and instruments and realize these are accumulations, borrowings, as well as discoveries. My own song counsels appreciation, that we welcome all the gifts and greatness come down to us, thus all muses past. They, our own muses as well, having been made sure of their welcome, will continue to visit, inhabit, inspiring beauty and creation.
So now, if you listen and your heart is good, if you are true to all that is holy in Antioch, you will hear me sing. It is rightly a lament, but a new form which does not wail, is no dirge, but opens yours and future ears to one form of paradise. Hear our song of sorrow. In spite of deaths, today and over tomorrows, hear it become a song of glories yet to be, and of joy”
The woman, the goddess and muse understood as such now, turned, disappeared somehow, yet even so, the thousands of them began to hear her sing, and it was for them deeply mournful, so many tears fell, and then rich in glory and was resonant within them as a kind ofjoy. Beauty was with them, these Antiocheans to whom that was given to bless too ordinary lives.
The brothers and sisters had found Mary better-paying work where other Christians were employed, or sometimes, were employers. Members saw to the initially needed care of her husband, extra food for her children, helped her buy the first new dresses, mercifully showed her the uses of the soap she could now afford, sea sponges for bathing at home, although now she could afford the public baths. Earlier, she had worried that in the baths her modesty would be compromised, her poverty mocked, nor did she have even the pennies to spend for those baths . She learned she was allowed to enjoy the flesh as a good, no sin as long as gratifications were in (Apollonian) moderation. That Jesus was flesh, that God made us flesh with pride and no shame to it, was a message she learned, first with relief, and then with joy. It certainly changed her nights with her husband at home. Both smiled, as they could now be sure God, no prude after all, smiled with them. Any woman in the Assembly had reason to pleased, and dignified, for thanks to Princess Helen’s influence on this Antioch Assembly’s rules, no woman, (until old worse ways returned) was not to be used, nor abused, nor denigrated, but was God’s understood equal daughter in her own right. New girl babes in the assembly came to be named “Sophia”, and that custom spread. And spread…
When this woman sang in the services of assembly, too loudly perhaps for hers was no Tyche voice, when she sang that God was good, it was heartfelt. When she told others that it was so, and proven, and her proof of it shown, and how, they doubted, then saw, then marveled, then after hesitating at the step but becoming confident as others urged them, then these newly told moved toward Him, became converted. The Assembly grew larger after S. Cornelius was Bishop, larger still after his notorious murder. The nave was large, but soon it was full of standing, singing worshippers. New presbyters able to be priests on their own were required. New buildings, at first still “synagogues” but later named and designed less Hebrew, were required. Antioch itself became the first flowering of the new and beautiful basilica architecture. The best had mosaic flowers. Yes, God had been, (but by no means inevitably), good.
But it is of this evening we speak, speak of the crowded avenue in front the assembly house where so many people from across the city had gathered, shocked at the news of murder. By now most of Antioch knew of Cornelius, after all he was a military hero, had been seen by so many at Daphne when, as acting Praetor with a presence greater than the Governor himself, had spoken so well of the Cretan athletes, and of how their bull leaping had meant, so long ago, leaping for life, for the joy of it, and out of the love of the gods. A good sub -Governor he had been, his offices soon crowded with petitioners whom he, and his secretary and others there heard. When heard and it found their requests were good, whether out of law, kindness or good governance in itself, there was action. Syria was getting value for money, its inhabitants appreciated that. It was not the ordinary Roman way, but even Antioch, the most corrupt and casual of cities, saw benefit in being governed well. That the Emperor Hadrian favored him, was by now known and made him further a celebrity. His murder, in the temple, where he was high priest, his blood on the floor before the hallowed altar, was. viewed across Empire, for the Cornelii were well know, was viewed, even by bigots, as outrageous sacrilege.
A woman in the back of the side garden, reserved for assembly members, knew the speaker, the singer whose voice was melody, Those mysterious flickering lights which obscured the speakers’ definition, but for a knowledgeable few, also signified more to this watching, listeningwoman. She, with the Elders, sensed the speaker’s emanation and there was, she would later swear and brag a bit in doing it, an halo. She was not, however, privileged to see that radiance around the widow Helen, to whom she had been support in her grieving and sisterly comfort. Of course she knew the voice! How not? That day by the fountain it had sung to her, sung only to her, sung of beauty and stories of the immortals, sung of the new high God come to Antioch out of eternity, out of vastness, out of love. It was Tyche who sang to her to come visit this Lord’s house of the Christians, bid her not be shy, sang of confidence which buoyed the poor, buoyed this tired woman, buoyed the hope of her. Tyche, in singing to the woman in black, Tyche acknowledged herself only a muse now, for she had surrender her ancient chthonic powers and their fearsomeness She could not protect the city, but she, with all music, would always be its friend, and her confidants, the city’s chronicler.
This woman in black would later, talking to Tyche’s statue near the pool, invite Tyche to join her tending flowers of the grave of the Bishop, at that modest stone which of which Tyche had a vision, and from the previewed form of it, she had recommended. Tyche, having emerged as such tonight, at her will appearing in human form, would be seen as just another modestly dressed woman tending the grave. She would sing sofly there, and the flowers welcomed her, and other visitors would know she was a special visitor blessing them.
The woman in black cared little for the future as so coldly carved for any man deprived of life, but she knew the Princess loved him, Tyche perhaps as well, some of the Elders surely. The two sets of footprints puzzled her only a little, for most graves one day hold both in a marriage, so Helen when visiting would know that one day she would stay. Of all monuments a woman conceives, to have been loved is the greatest. Honor then on earth and in Heaven assured by his life and death, evidenced so simply by grave tendence of women in black, and beside these two, and Helen of course, beside them in their tendence and train, visible and invisible, a greater number, mortal and also, those close and immortal, some hand-in-hand with light-shadowed girls who would bring them, a few of whom, dying as maidens becoming brides, would have these older gods as their groom. Death and celebrations. Death and festivals.
Glory in the deep love of a wife like Helen there, for of course she was bringing flowers too, watering them with translucent tears through which the numinous light of Heaven, and the sun, shone. Those not of the assembly, who knew not Helen herself. but the wider story of her, any tellers of tales now weaving a legend of the Bishop as well, these people easily believed that Helen of such rare strength and beauty, this champion of women, must be her celebrating legends, be even more than them. Why not then, for a Bishop himself who had risen and had now eternal life in Heaven, for isn’t that what Christians believe? why not some stories of him as well? As would come.
If his woman, this Helen of the halo- for yes Elders told that all about- was one of stories, and as such was believed of course of Troy, perhaps Magdalene, known now also as Apollo’s avenging archer. )Tellers and singing bards like a unified, sanitized, story, they dropped the part about some other whoring Helen of the port of Tyre). A man like Cornelius would, it came to be believed among those pagan, not only would surely have an immortal for his wife, but also might be seen, at least as epiphanies of himself, for example become the eagle atop the Legion II Trajana standards, but an eagle who could fly! Old legionnaires especially, upon visiting the gravesite, more and more reported they had seen, with their own eyes, that eagle close hovering,swooping overhead. His Trajan’s eagle, that of all of II Trajana men, becoming a totem eagle for more than legionnaires, for it flew above those more fierce among Christians,some of whom were becoming legionnaires. That eagle flew wherever Rome’s legions marched, a totem, an epiphany, significant for comrades of any religion. Such a totem eagle, his offspring, flew far beyond the boundaries of Roman empire. His image, and so his works and memory, grace much which is official, for that was S. Cornelius work, across the world.
For her part, Helen, out of modesty and, she insisted, honesty, denied all legends and magnifications. To what avail? Stories about famous people by no means rely their agreement. The story the weaving teller tells, lives long beyond and much wider than the mortal life, or immortal one, being told. So it was with Helen. Forgotten the calumny of her being consort to Simon Magus, boldly claimed was Helen Sophia the partner of the wisdom God, of course remembered is Helen of Argos fated in the groves of Daphne by Aphrodite to be come that face that launched those Achaean thousand ships toward on Troy, thence Aeneas, Troy’s prince come to found Rome’s itself, that Rome now Antioch’s own master; all of this because so great her beauty, which wes have seen with our own eyes! As we have seen her Apollo’s own archer! How great then must be this Roman knight, the very blood descent of Carthage-destroying Scipio, to whom she gave herself as mortal wife, that Helen whom in our very garden we saw, all who were there, that glowing halo about her, the sun’s gift and glowing, which we saw with our own eye.s Yes, radiance fit for the wife and legend who might herself have become empress as well, for it was within their grasp, had but God but willed it.
Be careful bard how goes your weaving there, for a teller of tales friendly with his head will well regard a jealous, watchful Hadrian who is mightily protective of throne. Allow you, bard, discrete ambiguity over whether that which was not, which only in a story might have been, which in a story dares anticipate the someday of it, was a pontiff’s rule over such as were Christians in these, their early times or, only a story later told and surely not imagined in Hadrian’s time. After all where are the recoding monumets, the imperial letters now, those diligent Roman records, those dull dull letters of early bishops some of which surely would endure. Or is there reason for the silence, that Silence the Bishop praised.
Can it be, as those near him in his time and listening, saw, saw not just the foreshadowing which was of later emperors, but in his time, himself ascending to the throne? Stories arise out of a kind of necessity, they speak of the immortality of our Bishop, beyond the grave, but incipient before it too, Surely others conceived him emperor, just as you have read. Look and you will see how fine it might look, that imperial diadem on his head, his Christian rule over all of now its own Empire- and beyond- as well. It was, the very vision bequeathed in his sermons, was it not? Did you yourself, with your own eyes, not see that vision, realize the inevitability of it?
Two women there, Tyche and Helen, two legends, to the ordinary eye just ordinary women, perhaps still mourning, faithfully tending the grave. There were others with them of course, others mortal and, if there be that other world of which I am myself sure, other spirit as well. Christianity by no means denies those other: spirits, cherubim, devils, ghosts, epiphanies and Visiors. There was a fine epitaph on the tombstone’s face, and outstanding clearly carved, two sets of footprints, parallel and yet self-directing, both sets leading beyond the boundary of the stone, beyond the limits of the grave. Cemeteries do not chart such maps. The crosses on the graves are expected to.
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