CHAPTER IX IGNATIUS
Light and Shadows
In this same year, after Trajan’ death, Ignatius, Bishop, would briefly meet Sempronius Scipio (Gracchus) Cornelius, nobleman, and recently senior centurion in Trajan’s own legion, II Trajana Shortly after that meeting Ignatius was charged, what charge and by whom is not known, but nevertheless condemned to meet his martyr’s death. That death, however well known, is a matter of inference, in spite of Ignatius’ Letters all written without haste and while on the Asian side of his journey. These letters written on the Rome are everywhere extant, whereas a later so-said vision is not well reported, but for Luke’s description herein. As for the martyrdom, the Christian assembly in Rome does not record it, although it received his last letters. Nor does the Roman record speak of it. Roman records, by the way, are extremely thorough, as such almost a governing invention. One adds they could be more thorough than accurate, depending on the writer and the uses anticipated. If it were conspiracy, then whose is suggested but not proven. Some admirers said it was not unlike the death of Jesus, which was Ignatius own proud, even if exaggerated view. Conforming to that possibility of Hebrew spite, that proper Jews become inspired Jewish Christian within his Assembly cannot be ruled out, given the tensions over the proper form and membership in this new, or alternatively. not quite so new religion.
Pontius Pilate was the most incompetent and ill willed of administrators, a fact acknowledged by Rome when they removed him from his post. Unlike him, Publius Marcellus, Governor of Syria under Hadrian (succeeding him as Governor when Hadrian became emperor) was a mild mannered man who would not have been quick to sentence a bishop unknown seriously to have challenged Rome. Publius would not so easily have been swayed by Jewish Christian accusers. This was a time when trouble was avoided. Under Trajan, under Hadrian, an accuser found false, conspiratorial, would more likely face punishment than the accused. Perhaps magistrates did the sentencing without higher approval, if so they would have their own more personal reasons. It is the nature of Roman records to be silent either on facts or speculation when there is no able historian with files to find and eyes to see.
It must be admitted that the account here presented differs from several others as to the dates, reason and manner of Ignatius’ death. There is no Roman record, only Christian, which, as writings however serious, are, we know, unreliable as to many things. When facts are formed to be consistent with preferred beliefs, they are a poorer history than when beliefs derive from fact. What “fact” is, as with “truth”, one regrets to say, constitute the hornets’ nests of history. By way of fair disclosure the present accounts of Ignatius derive in every instance directly from this Book itself, viz: the writings of two principals, Ignatius and Cornelius, and their respective deputies, Luke and Balthus, all consistent with the entire chain of events reported herein. Make of that what you will. As you reflect on that responsibility, know you well that I, Tyche, guardian goddess of this city of Antioch, am not one to fabricate reports of unlikely events that I have not seen with my own eyes.
Further respecting the end of Ignatius, consider that there was only one insider’s voice, insidious, not even his name is known, which at the time allowed a rumour that it was S. Cornelius himself, in the very first days of his quaestorship, when functioning as second in power to the Governor, who was so offended by whatever went on between them in that palace visit of Ignatius to the Quaestor, that Cornelius himself secretly brought the charge That rumour told that it was S. Cornelius who presented the charge privately to magistrates, and saw thereby quickly to the dispatch of Ignatius, for such things set in motion will out when it is no Roman citizen charged.
It is true that at the time intimates of the bishops were quite surprised when Ignatius told them he was to be martyred. ”Told”? and no formal finding read out from the official records? Denunciations from within do that, think of Pointius Pilate and Jesus, but do not ever disallow dispatch originating from the quiet hand of an irritated locally almost all-powerful Quaester. Yet Ignatius’ Letters in no way imagine let alone implicate Cornelius. Could he have been that ignorant of his effect of a visit to the sujb-governing Quaster about whom he had gathered considerable intelligence? Whether Ignatius himself had private knowledge of anything specifically deadly, as he did hint, coming from within his jealous assembly. one will never know. He should have! Strongly implicated but unnamed were conspirators quite close, members of his congregation. Treachery hereabouts is as common as pests in a vegetable garden.
Ignatius’ personality was not attractive, and any leader of any new and growing sect was vulnerable to jealousy, infamy, suspicion, or efficient elimination from inter-sectarian power struggles. Again, think of Jesus’ death or the buried demise of Gnostic competitors. Allow then that any conclusion about Ignatius’s death, by whose doing and the grounds for it, or indeed the “where’ of it, is unsure, or if “absolutely sure”, suspect. It is the case, whether near the Forum, not far from where Jews live and near there where Christians assemble, there are those who take slander, measured by the degree of animosity in it, to be validated by the degree of intensity of the ill will reflected. And further, quite human, the more malicious the gossip, the more welcome. The more venomous its nature, the more important the figures implicated, the more likely slander as trugh will be held indisputable. If we are all pigs and self loathing for that, a filthier swine in the pen we know, allows us elevation. If he was never thought a pig at all, and is now shown to be the worst, Hallelujah, it is delivery of a sort.
Compare this with the doom of Greek tragedians, that inescapable doom, that will of the gods unfolding, the certain laws of man in the web of himself and fate. Inescapable doom, but real, and through it the fall of the great, the humble crashed down with them. Here our doom is the gossip itself. Here the web is woven by tongues not gods. Ours here is the law of malevolence.
Here the will powering events is conceived in the imagination of those malevolent. Whispers foreshadow deeds. It is all a structure of shadows. Shadows grow heavy with their own weight, which can escape themselves to crush any with surprising lightness move quickly in their malice to penetrate those credulous. Important figures hereabouts have been brought to death by these means. As for Ignatius it is only known that he is dead.. For some hereabouts, all deeds of men are compiled by subtractions from the honor of others, thereby adding a larger sum of themselves. With Ignatius dead and unexplained, an arithmetic which sums to any explanation may be correct. As with mathematics, the proof circles within the system There need be no test beyond an internal logic of the child’s see saw, as he falls in repute, so may I rise. If one plants the seed of suspicion all over the broad plain, a fertile plot for it to grow is more likely found.
At the very least the gossiping voices were not at a loss for listeners, for we know that in the palace as well as the streets gossip is always more welcome than work, nor is there need for a name to be attached to that always “knowledgeable” source for that always enjoyable vicious news. So it was the voices, themselves no more interested in Christians than other strange sects, nevertheless said that Ignatius had overplayed a hand he did not hold, and might have, then and there in the palace, sought to conspire to involve that most honorable and loyal Cornelius, in sedition. Cornelius might have taken the proffered bribe, what Roman would not, or if honor won out, was outraged enough to order the execution. In doing so secretly, that now assumed because nothing at all was known about the proceeding, he lent himself to the joined account that Cornelius had taken the money and then safely betrayed, and silenced, its uninfluential donor. Normal enough, even admirable. As with a beautiful virgin, as with the decent and honorable man, the pleasure of the envious scripting their flaws and ugliness in a theater of shadows is gratifying . The knowing gossip elevates himself to the stature of the man calumnied. You should now understand Antioch, its tongues., the better.
As to truth, such facts as might be about this or other matters, I do not care. In this disinterest I show myself thoroughly Romanized. It is not abstract, any Platonic Truth which powers the Roman world.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter