POSTCRIPT TO CORNELIUS, BISHOP OF ANTIOCH, 128, by the hand of Benjamin Cornelius, this year of our Lord, 2010
B. Cornelius in submitting this Book acts as steward for chronicles purportedly compiled in memory of Cornelius, Bishop (est. born 68, died 128 AD) by Balthus, his secretary with the assistance of Cornelius’ wife, the Princess Helen, (Young) Luke, Deacon to earlier Bishop Ignatius, now sainted, Damian, now the Elder Luke and the Elder Joseph, an holy man. The genealogical record has B. Cornelius, as does family pride, a descended Cornelii. This genealogical presumption has led to this biography as fictional reconstruction sensitive to historical data. B. Cornelius as biographer entertains the pleasing, irrational assumption that there may a phenomenon akin to the Jungian ethnic unconscious present in families across generations. That is observed in the intent stated by S.Cornelius, Bishop that his journal is intended for descendent kinsmen. Given the distribution of the genome over two millennia of descent, one expects, given the rules of population genetics, multitudes of folk of European stock are likely DNA “kinsmen”, as is much more influentially the case by virtue of culture; any one inheriting the Hebrew-Christian, Greco-Roman bequest.
With respect to the accuracy of the portrait of S. Cornelius, it is pleasant to argue that the intimacy of family presumed, may also presume some greater understanding, even over millennia. Vico, (see Isaiah Berlin, Against the Current) held that it easier for human to comprehend other humans, these likenesses, than other complex phenomena. It is by reason of sympathetic insight and shared biosocial rules. Benjamin Cornelius argues that this understanding is only reasonably achieved by immersion in the scholarly work describing the times, that psychological scholarship will sharpens insights as to psychodynamics leading to exceptional conduct, and that religious literature which tells us of Christianity’s early second century, set in the vital context of its predecessors, rivals and contributing philosophies
This familiarity with an only somewhat “objective” scholarship, applied to writing an entirely “constructed” life of that Cornelius known in fact only as to his name, date, predecessor bishop(s), place, his religious, social-geographical and political situation. It must be a sympathetic and possible portrait that imagines the man as he might well have been, a portrait emphasizing the human.. One goal then is to make understandably and fully human the possibilities of lives lived at that critical moment in the history of religion when Antioch was the most important city for Christianity. Here considered essential for an understanding of the life assumed and developed for the otherwise unknown Cornelius, that Bishop of Antioch, 128, are presumption fundamental; his being a Roman aristocrat of the Cornelii, one of the greatest families, his early paganism natural in the context of an aristocrat’s education to Greek civilization, his remarkable, idiosyncratic personal development beyond these beginnings, and his having not simply the capabilities, but emerging desire for being what an unusual Christian of those days might hope to become, accomplish.
It has been the intent of this Book both to describe and to imagine early 2nd Century formative Christianity placed in its context as a then quite minor faith, subject at the time to much competition, doubt, oppression, uncertainty, reformulation as revision. One seeks to make alive, give depth to those figures historically identified as well as their invented associates. The bishops of Antioch met here, Ignatius, Heron, Eros and Cornelius are as real as can be assumed from a list provided by Eusebius, the first church historian who was in the opinion of some, “the most egregious intentional liar ever to write history” .
Simon Magus and his romantic, religious, associate, Helen “of Troy”, also called ‘the Whore of Tyre” are so named and defamed by Eusebius, who hates their competing Gnosticism. Other historical sources, the Bible included, authenticate at least one Simon, whereas not the name, but the attributes of a Gnostic, feminist Helen are possible. Lack of clarity is the most reliable characterization of the Antiochean religious situation of the early 2nd Century.
For the historical biographer generating fiction about personality, but arguing for some validity to the beliefs and actions most likely arising if the proposition is accepted that S.Cornelius was, in fact, the first aristocratic Roman male to convert, one comes to proposing speculation as to what “what might have been”. That is strongly constrained by the parameters of time, place, Roman identity, and the religious situation of a volatile Antioch housing small and ill formed, divided Christian and Jewish-Christian meetings. (This Quaker term is the most appropriate, but since the Greek word used was, “assembly,” we use that)
There is no inevitability to the themes we impose on history however lively we have S. Cornelius speak them. Time’s arrow reversed, wobbles extremely. The general tendency for views of those times is to accept that which is current as either dogma or interpretation. Since great differences exist across these, so that uncertainty as to ancient and unascertainable “fact” is assured. Professional historians accept this inevitable state of affairs and work to improve it. Believers of the dogmatic cast, insist upon doctrinal as God-given and inspired certainty.
As for history itself, one does well to hear the great historian Polybius, who earlier wrote of Rome and Antioch itself, “…If there is anything that does not correspond to reality, we must set it down to change or error or poetic license, a combination of history, dispositions and myth. (Whereas)…the end aimed at by history is truth” (Book 34, “Vividness” is produced, he says, by a disposition for it, as artist, advocate. Should an historian care less for truth than to wish to please or to astonish, he will, Polybius holds, rely on myth. The measure of a good historian is knowing the difference, an honest one tells us when he knows it. Biographical fiction is easier, we are allowed to mix the two. For the early 2nd Century in Antioch, all historians are forgiven something of a mix, for their sources, whether Ignatius or Malalas, do not conform to a modern standard.
A fair assessment of others’ picture of retrospective reality demands acceptance of historical uncertainty, their and one’s own interpretive, thus creative theses. One allows for continuous revision of perspective, the “truth for a while” knowing these are buffered by pre-commitments, by developing source access, and lies. One allows these are at work especially in the service of political sycophancy, adoration and the advocacy of (“apology” in the terms of the times) or attack on (cf Pliny, Celsus, Eusebius,) faiths, or “superstitions” (See Akenson 1998, R Lane Fox, 1992, Martin, 2002, Wilken 1984). If the work touched on the genealogical, as does this one, the diseases of self and “Stamm” flattery, poor scholarship, need-determined invention are rampant, these on top of often grossly inadequate data. Respecting the Christian, there is an immense literature, scholarly or doctrinal, more or less contentious, attentive to manuscripts and “books”, all but Paul’s of unknown authorship, arising from a biasing, text building process not completed for several hundred years, all that is Jesus-referring from inferred initial post Jesus oral history (e.g. to Q, from Q,) The process of debate over “the right book”, other early”books”, and the appearance of new books, or tablets, continues. Scholars (all following cites are but instances) such as Barnstone (1984) Fox (1992), Funk et al of the Jesus Seminar (1993), Mack (1993, 1995) MacDonald ((2000) Pagels (2003) Petrement (1984) The latest of those “revealed”, and achieving a wide following is The Book of Mormon. Smith, 1829. The facts surrounding such revelations provide a salutary evaluation of our much earlier\ sources.
Respecting Antioch: We argue, along with Brown and Meier (1982), Downey,) 1961) Zambon et al (2005)- indeed our count says most scholars of the early Church- that Antioch was the foremost Christian base for the years following the Jewish Wars, its founding assemblies (ecclesia), (which some scholars prefer to label as “synagogues”) were, under the initial leadership of Peter and Paul, seedbeds for interpretation, development, conflict about and, allow now regional activities, the writing of the sacred. Antioch is a place, perhaps foremost in its time, where critical production and editing of Christian literature occurred. At that time agreement as to nor terms such as ”gospel” or “canon” (that would take several hundred more years.) In Antioch doctrine and practices developed, as did schisms. Here in Antioch were to be found various interpretations of Jesus and his story, Jesus, “becoming” at that time “more” Christ, Some less faithful would see Antioch as the place of formulation of the Christ ‘myth”. We believe the evidence, viz. Ignatius, is strong, that here emerged a clearer form of the hierarchical, “institutional” assembly, later, church and “Church”.
Certain enough is that in and beyond Antioch there was conflict over texts and originating, i.e Jesus, events over the next several hundred years, that dispute continuing today. The process can be termed (and disputed) as the powerful intervention of formative, interpretive, or reconstructing, revisionist dogmas differing by faith and historiographical bent (See particularly Akenson, 2001 Fox,1992, Funk et al 1996, MacDonald ,2003, Mack, 1995, Mack 1993, ) Implicit in this Book that the shaping and fate of faiths called Christian depended on those usual determining suspects: access, exposure, the sociology of groups as influence and norm, the psychology of persons, the salience of one or another political-religious philosophical culture, including morals, e.g Roman, Greek, Hebrew, and, a bit more difficult to describe by the categories of conventional disciplines, openness to and the nature of God experience. For those ready to be faithful, this accepts a God-presence or direct divine influence.
To construct S. Cornelius life’s journey, to anticipate, retrospect the man, one relies as much as possible on scholarly findings to instruct and form. Antioch, Roman Syria,tht 3rd City of Rome 116-128. Antioch, that concentrated, formative site for Christianity post D 72 and through the early 100s at least, takes precedence over Rome. noted was where Both Peter and Paul preached (and disputed there) ), the word “Christian” first came into use there, one or more of the writings later to be called “Gospel: originated, and where, we infer, there is no evidence, that major shifts in the interpretations of Jesus life, his understanding and its ramifications as Christ, were underway. An early empowering impact is assumed, whether conceived now as brilliant insight into meanings and philosophy, the seed of Jesus as God’s word flowering into fuller understanding as miracle, or as riveting myth invented and embellished.
Antioch was central at the time, ( even if only ancillary later), for the immediate evolution of interpretation and dogma and for what later came to be the derived, differentiated institutions of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, then Churches, then the many churches post Reformation, and now across the globe, multiple denominations. It may well have been a critical place where competing sects, e.g. Gnosticism, others not known to us by labels, lost out. There is now, as modern, probably beginning in the 18th century but for earlier Servetus and Huss, revisions in the acceptance of Jesus’ God-sharing, implied Trinitarian nature. That reforming doctrine, Jesus as great but entirely mortal prophet (as the Muslims also allow him), or moral guide, would have been a competing view in ancient Antioch, for that was the Greek rational. That,`with Aristotle, was not tolerant of “myth” and consonant with Epicurian thought (see Lucretius, On the Nature of Things for his Roman advocate) would deny any godly role in the entirely natural, atom-based, universe. On the other hand, there might be little of Christian thought as it early evolved were it not for Plato, the monotheist and derivative neo Platonism which was consequential for Christian theology.
Mystical experience as premise The historicity of God come to earth in Jesus, as itself faith and now gospel, does not disallow, as surveys and mystics attest, a personal consciousness of God-presence. It is a premise of his Book, that for Cornelius the journey from Roman commander to civil servant to Christian conversion and bishop depended foremost on a God- experience. That allowed his, say, “spiritually completed self” a then harmonious integration of his morals, his appreciation of social and political needs on behalf of the Christian community and remedy for the situation of a to-him needy Rome. Since those not Epicurean, Stoical in his times were generally immersed in the lore and presence of the supernatural, (Luck, 1995) what in him coalesced to becoming “Christian” constituted a dramatic reformation of what were prevalent beliefs and practices. Mystical unions, as communion, trance, assimilation with deity were by no means unknown to pre and Christian- parallel experience, Indeed, Paul himself was seer and example (Luck, 1995 Central, was the capacity for a genuine, immediate, overwhelming altered states, as Strabo was aware. Cornelus then would have been “prepared” by that history.
We see no reason to consider that experience psychologically apart from what other mystics report, albeit the range of those descriptions of subjective states is considerable. The psychologist/philosopher/artist/physician William James, the most important early American psychologist, concluded, upon reviewing the lives of mystics, that they were a praiseworthy lot. To James we owe the pragmatic observation regarding faith, that beliefs do not work because they are true, but are true because they work, thus internally, inarguable as an operational definition of truth.
We write of a Cornelius who was the first noble Roman to experience a defining Christian mysticism. Many of his kind had been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries, but one must assume that paganism, even in its rich Eleusinian forms, was no longer “true enough” because it no longer worked well enough. Comparatively and obviously, by any pragmatic measure (save perhaps the Emperor Julian, the Apostate) the Eleusinian version of mystical presentation, or the other Orphic forms available, did not work as well as the new Christian message, community, opportunity, ideals and, for those few so favored, union with the deity. Since those reporting mystical unions, and those such as monks on Mt. Athos seeking them, report quite favorably on the phenomena, as did William James and St Paul, one might say that a dramatic proof of a religion ‘working” is in the subjective revelation of its truth, or such intimacy with its God.
One certainly allows that what “works”, even at the more modest level of acceptance, membership, depends on the sum of a culture at any historical moment, the various situation of lives, and particular predispositions, capabilities, satisfactions of personalities alive during one or another historical moment, or continujing moments similar enough to be categorized as “period” or “times”. For early Christianity those periods of consistency were short indeed, and as Pelikan (2003) ,tracing creeds and confessions, one is indeed faced with change as well as constancy. (With current reports of perhaps 2400 American Christian denominations, one must include fragmentation and dissipation as characterizations) At any one time, and place, in the Roman world, far less complex, globalized, than ours now, there were but a limited array of religions in which one might be reared, or led by peers to join, or more rarely that an individual, not carried forward by a social group, might chose. What might be converted to, the option of it, depended on what had survived of earlier forms, ,what cultural diffusion has brought to a region, their texts, priests, shrines, their amalgamations and transformations, and, of course, any immediate and novel revelations, inventions, genius, prophecies- introduced by religious persons. Be reminded by the type of Simon Magus you meet in this Book, that Gnostic Simon earlier excoriated by Eusebius, that the religious will also be the object of opportunism, marketing, fraud. Mass movements also occur. For some, none in Cornelius’ ken, its most intense component is madness.
Yet it may be that none of these “objectified” conditions are sufficient for the convinced truth of creeds and confessions, what the light-shadowed see, what inspires poets such as Blake or Hopkins, for that overwhelming “Other” present in mystical union, thus the landscape of gods known or presumed and how they are worshipped and experienced. The core of it for Cornelius and all convinced Christians is God revealed by and in Christ, that, for most, become Trinitarian God as he was defined, and redefined by all who are his apostles, reporters, advocates, stewards, interpreters and individual hosts. One God, yes,(or, for many, “perhaps”) but his forms, powers, divisions or nay, his promises, demands, approach varied in Antioch, and more so today. So much so, then and now, that the perceptions of “one” are varied enough to become heresies, anathemas, wars and multiplicities (See Stoyanov, The Other God, 2000, or any book on comparative religion) Allow also Byzantine bishops intent on murdering one another in Councils seeking unity on creeds. (See MacMullen, 2006). For the masterful indictment of the Byzantines, read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The representation of deities, revelations, prophets and messengers, those chosen, those believing, those immersed, shows familiar elements across many belief systems which seem to share elements correlated with their times. One observes components more or less continuous over time as functions of culture, minds apprehending and creating that, as more constant perhaps the capabilities and “preferences” of generating brain structures and functions including potentials for religious awareness, indeed “demands”, and thus, existing patterns for belief and experience, faith, which are available to any one man, or woman’s, their group’s reach and reception. An anthropologist might observe that for God to “work”, his presentation, definition, experiencing, not only contribute to the condition of man-in-the-world, but must somehow be appropriate thereto. This is hardly a theological position, but in seeing Antioch, knowing subsequent history, it is obvious that Christianity, for a growing number of people of broadening classes, met the pragmatic test of “working”. Christians will say that is because God made it so, and provided, come Jesus’ historicity, its grasp and gift. Personal testimonials to that are by no means rare, for many Christians report they have felt the immediate “presence” of God. An national survey (National Opinion Research Council, 1984, see Blum and Golitsin, 1991) found about one third of Americans felt personally very close to a powerful spiritual force originating outside themselves. Cornelius today, as an evangelical pastor, would find a pleased and understanding congregation should he report on his sensational experience with God.
Cornelius was demographically, psychologically unique in 128, but the situation of his Rome, his Syria, was not. Yet it is the special nature of his person in his place, against so many forces, his even so becoming a Christian in the 120s that makes his psychobiography, however constructed fictional, worthwhile. As that kinsman of his, one prays the measure of that is literary, human, and any success in instruction as to those times, or provocation of intellect as to any current meanings, implication. Cornelius life-changing, and ending, journey isolated him from all “proper” Roman roots. Change was rapid. Within 200 years, by Constantine’s time, the aristocratic Christian was no anomaly but the Emperor himself. All reading Cornelius will have been influenced by Constantine’s choice, whether Christian or no. Insofar, as this kinsman contends, our Cornelius prefigure that decisive moment, that he personified and comprehended many of the reasons for Christianity’s triumph. Allow me then, that Cornelius kinsman, to argue that Cornelius held, indeed was, the candle illuminating the way.
The predication of a powerful personal experience as fundamental to conversion, when conversion is sociologically rare, is consistent with Nock’s (1933) scholarly accounting as to conversion’s antecedents.( Modern psychological studies of conversion, dramatic in those who became early LSD-using “flower children”, (See Blum, ) are consistent.) Our S. Cornelius was strongly influenced by his alienating childhood, his highly developed social values critical of Rome, and, psychodynamics rife with conflict, resentment, self dissatisfaction, positively accompanied by an energized yearning for fulfillment as a more positive identification and expression of himself. Christianity was his opportunity, one which allowed him the leadership status his background and qualities demanded, sublimated his oppositional self, allowed a mature integration of loyalty and idealism, including a stance not simply conciliatory but, as Emperor Hadrian, his patron appreciated, quite a brilliant strategy for Rome and, incidental to Hadrian but not to Cornelius, Christianity’s survival and expansion. Whether or not these integrations, resolutions were successful, given the outcome which was that dramatic, death which he anticipated, perhaps summoned with his challenges, , there may be debate. Those who appreciate heroes; Sir Thomas Moore, Congressional Medal of Honor winners, perhaps all those great men and woman assassinated, or out of honorable commitment choosing a course risking their execution. will admire that “beautiful”, and culturally “perfected “Roman death (see again Edwards, 2007) Fundamental ,and so close to Cornelius in time and spirit, think on the death of Jesus, how it “prefigured” Conrelius’ chosen end.
Anticipated adverse reactions: There is surely a a range of Western World opinion and practice respecting Christianity. One survey found 2400 different ‘churches” in America enjoying more than one congregation. Views of one another’s even local differences can be ferocious. As recent and Christian; the small but fierce High Plains religious war between Yankee pioneers and early Mormon settlers in the mid 1800s. Outside Christianity, or between it and others, one encounters a a range from appreciation to indifference to great hostility. More common than the destructive politics of Muslim suicide bombers, consider as points on the spectrum: atheism, agnosticism, theism, deism, fideism, or mono or poly, or pagan or Satanic, and, and, and.
Because of the emotions associated with differences, the present Cornelius can be confident of one class of reactions to the Book of him. There is something within respecting beliefs- however much the fact and history of them is probable- but here as literary or biographical portrayal, or inferred accountings, with which almost any reader might disapprove. Some may decry them. I, this biographing, history offering, yet novelist, can only beg for sufficient tolerance to allow both Cornelii, and perhaps pagan, perhaps Gnostic Helen, the imp in young Luke, the friend, soldier, opportunist and perhaps Judas, but surely no Christian Balthus, to escape opprobrium.
Both Cornelii intend a view of the situation of Christianity in Roman Syria a after the destruction of Jerusalem when Christian and Jew fled to Antioch, the city where Peter and Paul preached, where the term “Christian” was coined, where the church “catholic” as universal was first described by martyred and much later canonized, Bishop, Saint Ignatius. Any reader who would insist there be no person of Ignatius but itself saintly will oppose the artistic, but not entirely fanciful, reconstruction of a person, here as a brave, much troubled and sometimes obnoxiously vain Ignatius. (To this latter view, many readers of his Letters will subscribe) The critic, disapproving of any psychobiographical as credible fictional constructions, may choose to discover here assault on the nature of sainthood as ecclesiastically declared perfected being. This idealization of those canonized is muted hereby by allowing tribute to be tempered with the human, some of it unpleasant. ( We do not attend the politics of canonization or beatification, beginning perhaps with Pope John XV in 993 ). The effort here is by no means intended heretical, it is intended humanization, That is indeed a basic intent of this Book, to emphasize the human as well as spiritual, the contrary and antithetical, and some institutional possibilities in Christianity’s formative years.
Apology: It is appropriate that B.Cornelius apologize for any offense taken, for none was intended. The Book will offend some faith, some doctrine, much historical assumption, and those who insist on only the best of, read “prudish,” taste. It allows a bit of the bawdy, drunken, playful, much of the fanciful (albeit realistic when the folk belief of the time). Also found: the cruel, psychopathological and, far more common, the typical, then and now, in the thoughts and conducts of humans of a given class, duty, personality. Neither whole nor part of it has mischievous intent, albeit that intent is allowed Luke’s expression. In a work attentive to the irrational, but insisting on the presence of the practical, there needs be the natural as encompassing.
For the doctrinaire reader who rails against either Cornelius for failing to reference, or revere concepts, materials, practices that are central to Christianity today, realize that much of it wasn’t there! There were no “gospels”, no ‘Bible”, no saints, no holy Mother Mary, no Trinity (first formalized by Tertullian, converted 196), no wide use of the term “Messiah”,) not even all the books that constitute the New Testament (on this agreed uncertainty, but among scholars less agreement on cut off dates for their writing, 150 being the last), no agreement on the nature of God, no cannon of agreement on what might become common texts, etc. This apology then is also accompanied by a defense, “times they is a changed”
Intended: immersion in the history, as best known, the human, the imaginary, all generating a context of Antioch and its people, the best known of whom theologically is Ignatius, a real person as was Cornelius, as was Simon Magnus, and was his alleged consort, Helen, perhaps of Troy or Tyre, but likely the first century,C.E. That first Church historian, Eusebius, intensely partisan, references Cornelius, Bishop and defames Simon Magnus and his alleged consort, Helen “of Troy” also characterized as Simon’s whore. The details of history, context remain, for most dry, but a necessity to present to allow weaving of the carpet on which the reader treads, or perhaps flies.. Few look at the magnificent detail or an Oriental carpet, one instead enjoys it as a pattern, here the pattern of lives in their settings at the time.. In meeting this Book’s characters, see your heritage in their situation, courage. love and pain, in their mind’s honesty (or, and) their openness to faith. Their Greco-Roman culture was what we have inherited, as with the Hebrew impact which was initial Christianity. It is the proposition here that each of them is not unlike each of ourselves.
The writer, compiler here, faces the challenge of historical fiction intent on not flaunting existing objective work, thus the same troubles that would beset a better qualified scholar making assessments of a time and place of deep religious importance, but where reliable documents are scarce, where much forgery abounds, where denominational interests, declared cannons, changing confessions, and parochial prejudices impose themselves on actual ambiguity. These may serve to confirm modern belief, institutional credo, invent authenticity when the facts are unsure. As Meeks, a scholar, (2002) has aid, “too often the history of doctrine has masqueraded as the history of the church and faith” Meeks also speaks of “code words for complex ideas masquerading as historical entities”
More severely, Ramsey in his fine work on St Paul, (1907, 1979) emphasizes Paul’s emphasis on freedom, (and Jesus’, “an easy yoke and light burden”) where Christianity’s power is to grow and widen. Ramsey contrasts the Pauline appreciation with those later doctrines empty of Paul, those where “a people are enslaved by ecclesiasticism” or “obedient to (Church) autocracy” Insofar then as interpretation, reconstruction imagination, are denied by frozen views of what is proper even of which to conceive, here a literary exploration as insight into personal and cultural wellsprings of conversion and expansion for Christianity. All of this, imagined as well as “what might have been”, must be set in what was; the context of Rome, the near Orient, Greek heritage, the pagan and multiple belief reality. One concludes, Christianity a proof, that what was wanted was change for the better; in lives, faiths, futures here and later, in morals, ideals, compassion, charity, all to be different than offered by the Roman way, that Roman Way (1932, 1984) so clearly understood by the great Edith Hamilton. It was, gluttanous, despotic, violent, culturally cacaphonic, ostentatious, material amused by agony and pervaded bydeath, suffused with endangering ambition, and even for its letters, wealth, engineering, political stability, commerce and cosmopolitanism, or sculpture and roads and Greek slaves as teachers, it was a society pitiless. It was inferior in creativity, beauty, thought to the Greek. It was superior to anything before it in war and efficiency and taxation. It was, too much, a “monstrous evil ” As Barton sums up, in a compelling book, l of ubiquitous horrors, an land of “sorrow” (The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans,1993)
It is no great analysis to understand that when Romans volunteered Christian, they were choosing several goods over the magnificently imperial, but for most personally bad. Roman life was, as said Seneca, (advocate of Stoicism, retiring after Nero murdered his own mother, condemned to suicide, in the manner of which he copied Socrates) described, constant warfare, not simply imperial but individually. Tyranny was unrestrained. The appetites unleashed were themselves at war, these unsustainable excesses and demands, or, mocked by idealism in virtue described (e.g honor, dignitas, etc) but unachievable and too rarely pursued. In Rome evil conquered good. One assumes there was much individual will for that good on this earth. Chrstianity offered itself as that and more, and was accepted It was opposed by ethnocentric disdain, enforced by the tyranny of emperors, appetite, indulgence, ambition, treachery and the generalized social norms in support of these. It was typically Roman that Christianity became Roman policy through power and following its apparent utility in war, with Constantine apparently thinking it a martial benefit as well as significant social force in the Greek East where Constantine decided to settle his capitol. By no means did “the good” pervade all with such an accession. The “good” was given a chance, and those longing for it were allowed the Jesus model to embrace.
S. Cornelius as idiosyncratic forerunner: Exile was a terrible punishment, self exile might be chosen eccentrically, but to places such as Athens for classical immersion, or perhaps one’s villa on Lake Como for the summer. No male member, surely no “normal” one of the Roman elite, particular a patrician Cornelii, would renounce that, losing all honor, belonging, and perks, to become outcast and isolate as a barbarian, foreign, suspect and despised Asian cultist, read: Christian. As Constantine led, or Augustine, so then might they be followed. Philosophical positions were of course allowed, whether Stoic, Cynic, Epicurian, but no new gods to worship, and certainly nothing transcendental entered. Even so, there was a luring tension. Harrison (1986) understood that Stoicism was indeed religious, propounding one God all powerful, present in every man equally, capable of the triumph of good over evil. What St Paul said to the Athenians was what they already knew from Zeno, although their rationality denied them its joy. The Roman elite did learn Greek philosophy, would know the tenets of Stoicism although these in Rome were denied in deed and spirit. Until Christianity was imperially perceived as useful and necessary for Rome, its humane and spiritual components, might now be more fully explored; that charity, virtue, beauty, God, allowing all the conceive themselves potentially worthy of love, its deserved giving and receiving and off eternity.
Lest one idealize Byzantium now open to the Good, read again Gibbon, but know him not simply as a pessimistic historian, for him history as “little more than the register of crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind” but know he was critical not only of Byzantium, but of paganism, and Oxford University which he had intended. He also allowed himself, impolitically for one who was in Parliament, to deride Christianity which he knew as hisrorian, and had experienced as both Roman Catholic, Calvanist and, (here assumed) Anglican. For a kinder appreciation of Byzantine Christianity, enjoy reading its great theologians.
Jane Harrison in Themis (1963) assessed the social origins of Greek religion, Gilbert Murray(1897)proposed a psychological ethos. “failure of nerve” for its fall Edith Hamilton, continuing that splendid classical tradition, in The Roman Way (1964) assessed critically Rome and with many other scholars, appreciated moral, human, social reasons for the ready spread of Christianity in and through Rome. Rome became, for most, a failed environment, not “fit” for harmonious survival. Earlier Classicists, including Gibbon, Momsen, Finlay, and more recent secular historians ( see Bibliography, but only illustrative, Barton, Brown, Grant, Lane Fox, MacMullen, Ramsay Wilkinson. ) provide superb insights into the mood, condition of Rome and Hellenized Asia Minor. Their scholarship, , with many others, contributes to socio-historical understandings of the course and “how” for Christianity’s attraction.
Historians, some theologians with scholarly doctrinal interests (See again, Bibliography, illustrative: Craig, Jedin , Friend, Green, Kelley, Lonergan, Rehner, Tillich) may read into the “how” of Christianity’s rise, higher cause and purpose, God’s plan. It is probably many of the less curious faithful find God’s plan sufficient cause, and yes, any historian with a psychological consciousness will accept that people joined an unconventional faith because they are persuaded, usually by converts already close to them, to believe it. An historian with a social science background, (e g Stark) may accept faith as one necessary condition for sociologically explicable conversions . For the scholar requiring independently verifiable, “objective” consensus on determining events for Christian growth, the documents of the early fathers, Ignatius of Antioch one, certainly demonstrate a leadership motivated by such faith, a God inspiration.. “The fact of belief, God as construct for believers real, allows a “yes” as psycho-socio necessary “cause”. Even so, fuller explanations must examine history, context opportunity, and practical incentives. (See again Bibliography: illustratively Akenson (1998) Barnstone (1984) Charlesworth (1983) Mack (1995) It will only be the doctrinally devout who are confident in a theological super-determinism which claims Christianity as it emerged as Church, (then separating East and West, then the dissolving into churches, or no religion at all, always with doubters and critics, loud or silenced, in the arena), was inevitable, that its history is then, of little interest, that its leaders and thinkers were irrelevant. We view a man like Cornelius, some pioneer in leading the Roman elite, and thus their power structure, into the faith, as consequential.
“Radicals”: It is the premise underlying the presentation of Cornelius, that a successful “radical” movement, which Christianity became, in the sense of dramatic change, must be led and administered by an intellectual and social elite. Political scientists studying only “political’ revolutions take the same position. Implied: Jesus was no dummie, nor apostles Peter and Paul. Insofar as Antioch’s bishops were not remarkable Heron and the real Eros, in contrast to Ignatius for example, there was little growth. To enjoy quality leadership, even if to be groomed on the job, remarkable people, must beattracted. For those in rigidly stratified societies, and yet ambitious, qualified with leadership skills otherwise lost, social mobility might be found in new sect priesthoods where status was not inherited, open only to the wealthy or well- connected These, if metamorphosing into popular religions, could institutionalize a new localized elite. That would seem to have been the case with early Christianity. Not with Cornelius, and not for the Christian success in becoming the imperial religion. There might be nothing “radical” about barbarians, foreigners, out group tribes such as the Jews to join a déclassé sect, some minor Syrian or Italian then rising to lead some emerging Christian assembly, but for a Roman aristocrat to do so, that was radical indeed.
Later, with established indigenous respectability, there would be fewer problems, but for the recurrent bloody provincial repression by imperial Rome.. In North Africa, take for instance Tertullian, said to have been born, about 145-150 pagan, of a “preconsular centurian” father (possibly, inferring from Coxe, Semitic or black Carthaginian) , educated in Rome perhaps to some aspect of law, converted in about 185, rising to presbyter 190, (how (he) became Christian is not clear”) continuing ‘orthodox” until about 200, and then become heretic Montanist to be reviled and cast out by Rome, although contributing in his thought and works to her very foundations, enriching the Latin Church, influencing Augustine, contributing in particular to the later Anglican. Here, see Coxe (Erdmann reprint, 1978) Coxe makes the telling point that being too bright was a considerable disadvantage, as was competence too early in complex theological original thought, however later it might be prized. That the bright and creative might be Montanist, an heresy which originally embraced new prophecy but in Tertullian, who made no such prophetic claims, B. Cornelius argues that its allowing innovation, thus creative thought credible, was not only appealing but assumed creatively sensible by a mind such as his. In that sense, all innovation is heresy insofar as it proposes inspired (or we would add for such as Origen, simply brilliant innovative thought (in an extreme personality) in doctrine. The Carthaginians seem too full of that, for, Coxe reminds us, all of the “illustrious doctors” of the Carthaginian church were expelled by Rome, whose clergy, at least concerning Tertullian and according to Holmes (in Coxe) were envious and “contumelious” in their repulsing response to him. “The more brilliant the intellect, the more dangerous to the poor Church…” in its “Primitive Age”, which, he defends as defensively in need of creedal discipline.
The point of this Tertullian tangent is to propose that qualities not positive for early leadership, even for that body not yet firm enough in have arrived at consensus on that primitive orthodoxy, (its cannons, the architecture of God and Christ etc.) were great and creative intelligence not somehow true to the emerging compass of doctrine. Our S. Cornelius eschewed the doctrinal, his thesis was what he knew best, the need to merge Rome and Christianity, and the institutional imperative so clear to Ignatius, unity, which unity implied tolerance, thus, paradoxically, allowance for differences in belief which would one day become heresy, and for Ignatius, and for Cornelius, may have cost them their lives at the hands of the righteously intolerant within their assembly. No claim was made that S. Cornelius was terribly bright, by his own admission, not gainsaid, the formally uneducated but self taught German Balthus was brighter and more knowledgeable. Perusal of Balthus’s whispers and his louder voice shows that; nothing in S. Cornelius speaks to brilliance, albeit his ambiguity about life after death, consistent enough with current Roman attitudes and thus conventional- and S. Cornelius was outwardly conventional-would in a later church be abjured. In Cornelius then, a leader by training, experience, status, himself no “heretic” either to Roman god-tendance and, loyal to his Emperor and the idea of Rome, was entirely h in the later model of Constantine. But Constantine decreed and became Christian (albeit not by baptism, until near death) with impunity, power and, some suggest, intelligent political-military calculation. Whether Constantine, for all his church involvement, “believed” as a confession of faith, is unknown. There is the difference; S.Cornelius’ conversion was slow, profound, total and his action in becoming bishop courageous, autonomous. His externalities prefigure Constantine, the God-possessed, idealistic man of him does not. No matter to others; Rome was a show of externalities, it is the modern reader who appreciates the psychological, the introspective and associative, it is hardly conceivable that Cornelius would have been “understood” by any of his peers. That he was “understood” by Helen, ever so much so, is a tribute to the training, work and assumed special powers of Apollo’s oracle and, we might add, her quite remarkable capability for imagining, even being the other (as in the Pythian trance which seems, in her case, not the sine qua non for her oracular business, fragrances of hemp or wheat rust (thus hallucinogenic) notwithstanding. Being a loving, intuitive woman was also a compelling asset
Those with status advantage rarely denounce it, although they may become “radical” in safe havens. It is a rare person with that sort of autonomy, persevering idealism, and courage. For a typical Roman aristocrat to be a deviant, to “betray” his kind, upbringing, advantages, there would be no obvious advantages coupled with serious disincentives, however socially, politically, personally conceived. . It took some centuries for aristocratic Romans, or their emperor, to move Christward (Salzmann, 2002) The poor would easily be attracted to charity or referral networks, as were also attractive in the self-helping and more successful, trade-experienced Jewish communities . For an arrived aristocrat, Cornelius as hero, protégé of the emperor, provincial administrator, and of course wealthy, to reject staying “in” for opting ‘out’- here a sect so far “out” its barbarian” foreign members were calumnied, for cannibalism, incest was hardly attractive. To join with those martyred for treason in not honoring Roman gods, why? For an exceedingly well placed, status-conscious, respectable in-group Italian Romans who ran, were, and benefited most from Rome, and this was Cornelius, Christianity was a madness. A sweet lunacy, the Lord’s madness, a compelling personal truth, a means to a genuine idealist’s revolution on behalf of the Good and the Beautiful? An already self isolated man’s way to baggage-free free “belonging”? A respite from boring administration or from condemning men to the cross? Well, it would seem reasonable and might well be so.
The issue of loyalty is not to be overlooked when we consider the earliest, and locally exceedingly visible conversion from Roman elite to foreign, lower class, suspect, despised sect. (See Balsdon, 1979. MacMullen, 1966). The examples of those martyred are proof of an ill reception. Think on how S.Cornelius become Christian might be received? Associated with loyalty in its intimate context of personal decisions and relations, the relation of ideology to personality (See Adorno et al 1950) the personal definitions, meanings of treason (See Dame West, 1964) are profound emotions and agonizing choices which, only when abstracted. are spoken of as matters of power, status, , political threat, conflict, moral choice, revolutionary potential, tyrannicide, and treason under law. Declarations of “for” or “against”, “mine” or “other” are the passionate topics of history, politics, religions and lives, whether Alcibiades, Socrates, Jesus, Sir Thomas Moor, Thomas a-Beckett, Joan d’ Arc, Thomas Paine and John Adams, or, the American spy, Penkosvsky, (reporting on Soviet intentions during the Cuban missile crisis- for which he was executed.) When power or in-group opponents with knives judge the other disloyal, the story of lives and nations reminds becomes glorious or base. Either way, that death is a likely outcome. It is powerful stuff, this making of the remarkable; heroes , traitors or martyrs grown out of the visionary, the honorable and utterly decent, or, conversely, the misbegotten, the lunatic, grandly duped, or sheer evil. So it is, powerful stuff here in S. Cornelius, made of Rome’s culminating but maverick Corrnelii breeding, one condemned to childhood tortures, self doubt, anachronistic virtue- in his being as moral as Cato- and by compassion and Gracchi heritage, social reform. That reform, the wheat dole, land distribution, was politically astute with reference to socio-economic needs, attentive to mass need, but at the time of the Gracchi, and now dominant in S. Cornelius desire for the social good, these constituted an idealist’s rebellion against Rome’s dominant ways and self interests (in the Gracchi times, senatorial ) One argues that in S. Cornelius, social reform as idealism merged with that Christian charity so urged by Jesus and St Paul, merged also in the new man arising from the epiphanic appearance, and the moment of union, thus a Christian Dionysian, Orphic mystical gift, all summed compellingly in S. Cornelius person and perception to the gift of being God- imbued, a reciprocal totality of God embrace.
One can frame the events of the Crucifixion in these terms, and the politics of Christianity until Constantine. In the interim years the history of Christianity is readily conceived as the exercise of loyalty to a particular belief, contrasted with heresy. Consider for example the multiple groups arising and disputing theology/Christology: Arians, Montanists, Manichaean s, Gnostics Donatists. Docetists, all consequential,. Disputation continued in Byzantium, (See Gibbon, lst ed 1776, Heritage/Macy ed (1941), Runciman, (1933) Vasilic (1961) sometimes in a deadly form. ( Some historians propose the extreme rejection of regionally popular doctrinal positions popular contributed to the readiness of converts to the alternative message of Mohammed,) Viewed from participants’ standpoints, aside from the law, political treason and religious heresy are analogous and, as with the wide welcome for Muslim conquest, synonymous. Since such ideologies are imbedded in social groups, such breaks, when idiosyncratically individual, risk disruption of important social ties. This was S. Cornelius’ risk, as it would be for any esteemed Roman high in the hierarchy. (One notes the first elite Romans to convert were women, who while of ruling households, were not held to strict Roman conduct. Indeed it is likely more women of any class were early converts than were men) For S.Cornelius his slow journey to conversion was, in moving “away”, potentially viewed as betrayal, whereas his embrace of, and in mystic union, by God, was also that, since in Rome there were duties to the state gods, but no depth of “faith” was required, or indeed likely. Cornelius journey then was politically, religiously, socially, personally dramatic
S. Cornelius’ cleverness, viewed from afar and conceptually, was in avoiding a Roman perception of treason, assuring his Emperor and Governor he was not leaving the fold entirely, but instead would bring them an opportunity to, a modern intelligencer would say, ‘penetrate” the Christians to remove that occasion, minor but perturbing thorn in the Roman side. His conciliatory agenda was, at first imperial glance and upon Hadrian’s, be-sure, careful examination, politically fully pro-Roman. One must give S.Cornelius full credit for an harmonizing, mediating, reconciling , loyal resolution. It was not calculating. There was no cunning in him. He was sensible and loyal and, as history bears out, prescient as well as idealistic and practical. But others, whether in his congregation or in the palace, had no earlier lessons learned within themselves by which to judge his outlandishly sensible, everyone-benefitting- it- would- seem, proposals. He was too advanced. As is the fate of peacemakers, think Count Bernadotte, combatants turn on them. Somebody, possibly quite loyal and well intentioned byh his own lights, did him in. He was not the last of the best of the Christian elite to suffer that fate, think Samuel a Becket or Sir Thomas Moore, or German Pastor Neumuller whom Hitler had executed. Think any decent leader assassinated. Their numbers are legion. There will be more martyred ‘men like Cornelius” to come.
The Christian convert’s disincentives, as powerful aversive forces, surely did include the nature of Roman society itself, but incentives for a bizarre new leadership which will appeal to an already- ruling elite, must appeal to the eccentric. The Roman aristocracy were the last to become Christian, that when it was safe and imperially led. In doing it was sensible opportunism, they gained, not lost, the future was theirs. (see Salzman, 2002) Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement were early 2nd century leaders but not drawn from the Equestrian class.. Any Roman lower rank Equis who might come to lead Christians instead, lost, did not gain socially. The Later Augustine converted safely,387, well after Constantine. (He was safe until the later years when the Vandals, no Christian enemy, besieged Hippo.).
The typical Roman rewards of status, wealth, leisure, for some sadistic were what he left. One must construct then personal features allowing desertion, perhaps apolitical rebellion. The construction of Cornelius assumes primarily psychological factors, in the Book revealed as introspective, phenomenological, of a religious, moral, aesthetic, today we could add “humanistic” nature. The premise of such leadership must invoke “personality,” thus values, morals, character, implied individual success traits such as courage, admirable prior history, personal appeal, astuteness, the decency Christianity required, thus ideals and visions as well as the practical capabilities for initiating “cult” success as inroad on Empire. Personality here includes what clinicians and theorists posit in its development and expression, thus early experience, idiosyncratic traits, peak moments in exceptional people, the nature, attitudes of one’s immediate peers from whom their must be support .,
No personality grows or operates as a cultural isolate, not even the early desert hermits. Not is it the case, that what one calls “the irrational-“ defined as other than the strict application of science, logic, thus broadly encompassing religion, mysticism, intuition, emotion, impulse, these when refined , the arts, music, poetry, (may B. Cornelius, self including, say “quality fiction”?) is not without rational components. Even as with Paul, instructed by a private revelation, while relying on inner anchors of faith, his career, rationally engaged in long term policy calculations of an exceedingly successful order. That his exhortations were, in his mind, presumably altruistic is biological, and when reciprocated, individual altruism. It is, as sociobiologists point out, genetically derived Shared primate group characteristics facilitate interdependency, sharing, assisting behaviors which are necessary for species and reproductive survival.
A member of the Roman elite trained to administration would know organizational management in which the Romans above any state, excelled. Should he become Christian, such men were wise enough to value the demonstrations of altruism, charity as best instance, but also the symbols and promises of altruism, thus love and brotherhood. When powered by a religious, or socio-religious experience, or as Balthus suspected in S. Cornelius, an innate but emerging political and ambitious motive, they enjoy powerful motivation. The saintly mystics of the Church, unlike the desert hermits, could also be real world leaders as was St Francis, or , in terms of influence not power at the time, Dionysios, sometimes called the “Pseudo Dionysios, that profound likely monk circa 600 who fathered the Christian canon of mysticism, (Blum and Golitsin, 1991) which state one sees in the remarkable God-merging union experience of S. Cornelius
Elites, as those wealthy, well born and better educated in Roman times, with powerful Greek influences in that education (or if Greeks in Asia Minor, by heritage and pride, but little status in Roman rulers’ opinions) would necessary value and draw on,, argue in terms of themes historically known and admired (thus Greek philosophy, morals, including Parmenides or Plato’s “One”) The Christian elite (that status only within their small communities)They would be shaped by the intensity of the Christian experience working in lives. Roman rhetoric, that persuasion with neither conviction nor mass benefit, go hang! Need one say there are pragmatic components to the Laws of Moses, and Jesus teaching?. An understanding leader would know enough to argue the socially practical, individually useful and satisfying, albeit possibly couching these in mystifying terms. As moderns know, the best advertising boost is a good product, no propaganda not backed by other proofs succeeds. Again. Christianity worked, but its proof was several hundred years a-coming. Fox’ work on this period is marvelously instructive, and with no axe-grinding bias to inflate the attraction of the faith. He points out hat no histories before 250, but for Eusebius “insider” one, even refer to Christians. Origen, that genius of faith, around 240 noted there were only a few about. Pliney in 110 commented on those in Byhnia who had tried it out and quit. Pliny noticed Christians not lapsed, but as his governing duty, and with suspicion if not distaste. It seems the Emperor Commodus had a concubine about Marcia, who may have been Christian, but she was no empress. Fox tells us of King Agbar, VIII of Edessa, east of the Euphrates, who may have been Christian, and, if so, would earn the title of the first Christian king (thus, before Armenia converted) Moffet offers a more detailed discussion, in which we see uncertainty as to which Agbar and any conversion. No matter, it was an Eastern king of no great power who might first have converted, say the late 2nd Century, and no Roman emperor he.
It took some centuries for insular Roman eyes, those fact-indifferent, common sense, selfish ones, to open enough to see what, at a much earlier historical point only the rarest and very eccentric in-group Roman of high status might have attended to with any personal interest. The evidence shows none. Our assumptions about Cornelius are hardly evidence, but, as is intended, to show the personal dynamics for Christian conversion likely early present and, as such, radical but prodromal.
There is one possible force toward conversion and “vocation” which is implicit in Cornelius as reconstructed here, but, if not explicit, now to be made that. Age. The phenomena of mid life crisis, or later life change is well known, then and now. Since life expectancy at birth in Rome is estimated to be about 40 years, much less later life change, as we know it, could occur in that less privileged population who did die earlier. Than as now, those well off lived longer. (St Augustine, whose movement from philosophy to a Gnostic Manichaeism thence a Neoplatonic Roman Catholicism is well known, became a Christian bishop at about 40, older then than that age is now. Even so Augustine died at a respectable age 76.) We construct S. Cornelius’ proceeding to Christianity beginning in his 40s, and becoming almost immediately bishop after self conversion, in his early 50s. He was hardly the first man to review an earlier violent life and find it wanting, nor to renounce a way of political life of which he disapproved. (As recent cases e, those Soviet KGB elite some of whomwere, very much like Cornelius as educated idealists from old families, entirely disapproving of Stalin, gulags, and promoted barbarian, yet loving Mother Russia, so torn by loyalties, were recruited to defect to the West during the Cold War.) The process then of mature later life reexamination leading to resolved self-change is attributed to S. Cornelius, and is not incompatible with many other lives. Do again be mindful, while his religious embrace was radical, he did not desert his Roman loyalties, character values, his ties to Hadrian, nor his wealth.
As research on diffusion, better -practice adaptation in the social sciences suggests, the first to invent,, or shortly after to appreciate and try out that which years later a consensus acknowledge is a good thing (art,music, medicine, mechanics. educational method, etc ) is a remarkable person who, statistically in terms of career endings, had best not count on acceptance. The adage, “a prophet in his own country…etc” applies. Many a later revered musician, novelist, poet in recent centuries has died unapprfeciated poor. Given those violent Roman times, and within the new religions the ferocity of dispute, Cornelius short career was, predictable. He himself anticipated it, Balthus did so as well—and may have been the Judas assuring it. Cornelius died too soon to lead Christians to the goal Constantine achieved, indeed, thrust. It was later and safer then, that elites under force of more extreme change in the Empire, indeed its internal disarray, military disintegration in the West, but presumably absorbing some of the understandings that Cornelius enjoyed, that Christianity would have its powerful leaders, that by a secular definition. That recruitment of the Roman aristocracy, most followers not leaders at all, was very slow. (Salzman, 2002) In the heart of Empire, the first two centuries of the church were led by those of no status in Roman society. It is this remarkable feature that allows the conception of a later few personally brave, autonomous, thoughtful, who were men like Cornelius
It is easy for moderns to make a mistake here. In a now Christian Western world, indeed in a larger world where Christianity is the largest religion, (about two billion) the searching reader of will find a parade of figures, e.g those Ante Nicene fathers, who loom large now . But until Constantine, or a few decades before him, there was no Christian aristocrat, defined, as Av;ianius in the early 300s did, as having wealth, or nobility or power, who would find public recognition, public honors, in institutional memberships other than those deemed high status. Our S. Cornelius is conceived as indeed eccentric, and since historically unnoted, can only represent those who did prefigure, were harbingers, and, too soon electing marginality, did as such suffer the fate so many reformers, pioneers, cultural deviants do. He is conceived the candle, his candle is conceived the light. Men like Cornelius did arise, but not even the histories honor them, or if in an history such as Eusebius, where Cornelius appears without comment, that Eusebius by no means may be fully believed.
Leadership: Unlike the monsters of the 20th century who had the power to impose ideologies, e.g. Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, an early Christian leader could only persuade, be example, facilitate communities which offered immediate satisfaction. An early Christian leader, we presume would be convinced by powerful internal experiences as well, thus religion in himself, not a garment to be worn but an intense subjective knowing compatible with philosophical, social values. One dare not exclude the inevitable marginal persons drawn to, or generating, marginal, fringe movements. By no means assume all early Christian leaders were psychologically sound; marginal groups attract disordered persons. If the appeals are at deep emotional levels, expect the greater disturbance, and if power including power over sex, treasuries and lives, is the attraction, the rogue as sociopath and/or fanatic will exploit these to the great damage of others. The invention of Cornelius, not as name but personality, and of Ignatius, invented only as to personality (as response to the content of his writing, no evidence for the person of him ) provides psychosocially credible persons, necessarily “different” necessarily competent – we conclude that because of their peer selection for responsibility, leadership- and necessarily poignantly human, i.e. with striking personalities, character and values compelling their choice of life and world-changing careers. Leadership is not ordinary, although it may be compelled by a situation. S. Cornelius was already proven a leader, his new courage and foresight were in its far more difficult, dangerous application.
Able leaders, we give that to Ignatius and claim it for Cornelius, are sensitive to the times, assess needs and opportunities, are skilled in persuasion –the Roman elite were trained to rhetoric for that purpose - and must be competent administrators. They must function not simply effectively but , by definition, exceptionally, for the early Christian situations were challenging. Consider: (a) vis a vis Rome, being despised, suspect, oppressed, denounced, being subject of scandalous rumour, (b) facing the competition with Jews, Christian Gnosticism, the Oriental sects, the myriad interpretations of Christ and the supernatural which must either be incorporated, tolerated or defeated, (c) competing against the active attractions of and traditional bonds to the older gods, (d) the appeal of arriving oriental sects, and in the midst of these,(e) beyond surviving and expanding as a faith, (f) all of this in a time when all not enjoying the health advantages provided by wealth, were often ill, disabled, and likely to die young. For scholarly descriptions of the situation of the Christian in Roman Antioch, see Bibliography, e.g. Balsdon, Bultmann, Lane Fox, Koester, MacMullen , Markus, Meeks, Stark, Wilkin)
Given these as obvious, a man like Cornelius, a “lateral transfer from Roman to Christian leadership, must have been conscious of Roman honor and virtue, Greek idealism, Stoic discipline , yet, “deviant” enough himself in deserting his class were these values were taught.. As new Christian and bishop, he remained eccentric in his beliefs (just as St. Augustine remained an autonomous, creative thinker) “Different” yes, but he could not be lunatic nor socially insensitive, he must inspire trust, confidence, he must be sufficient Christian to show some unselfish goodness, but do not assume perfections. He stayed wealthy and aloof, and was inescapable a status conscious, we would say, “snob” ; recall after all his not wanting to be seen among the Christian mob, his ‘private” faith. There is not to be class conscious in an entirely hierarchical society. In a time when faith was so costly, so aberrant, one posits that a man like Cornelius, late to come to Christianity) would be religiously capable, thus, and here again we assume the goodness of the faith “worked”, thus smitten with and by a God of love, powerful enough to triumph over evil, to help man be good. As a leader, he must also be attractive, probably radiate the aristocratic inbred power, confidence, which course a sensible Christian assembly of outcasts who were missionaries would more than prize. He would be their prize, their protection for he was well connected, and their support from his own wealth. Ignatius was unquestionably a man of acumen, and his vision, encouragement, -as we have it- of the Quaestor as eventual successor was wise beyond the intujitive.. As we saw with later Heron, and the extant literature attests, no great leader came to the Antiochean Christians for a century or more. In the meantime his call from the assembly rested on Ignatius, for those remaining were hardly experienced strategists. There were none experienced in governance, command. As for, Eros, historically real in that name as identified by shown by Eusebius, there is no further note. We conceive him as his name compels inference, one useful only to himself, not others.
Ourselves descended Cornelii, , we include those “men like’ S. Cornelius as closer successors, any one of whom should understand the mission to open Roman eyes to the value, rewards, thus excellence of this particular faith for all of Rome. Constantine did see the Christian God as Great. (See Augustine’s later parallel, grand, and written, City of God 426 . Committed to a greater goal, and himself not wavering among available alternative beliefs, S. Cornelius would not engage in the typical Antiochean in-fighting among factions Christian (including Gnostic) and Hebrew, all the shades between, and later, many more. He would know as a successful common sense Roman, that if he were s to lead Rome one day to Christianity, it would have to be, for the sake of Christian survival then success, to lead Christians to Rome. It was also rational for a potential convert, valuing her or his life, status, comfort, to be attracted to a less dangerous alliance, thus a an early friendly imperium was advantage. Of course he opposed martyrdom. He had led armies, and had no intent to lose his own new one. Any army not enjoying masses available to slaughter, seeks to limit casualties ,and to make those suffered of maximal strategic value. In the long run, S. Cornelius strategy of non- confrontation won out, Christians and Romans did accommodate. That it was “a log run” is an odd kind of proof of the opposing forces in 128/
One does not argue the, “could it have been otherwise?” of history. Within narrow confined allowed by the content of the basket of culture, of course it might have been. But it wasn’t, although “what was” must be treated with some uncertainty that any history deserves. That competent leadership emerged for Christians is assumed by the act of growth and survival. That it might have done better, faster is easy to argue, as any management consultant can demonstrate in comparing organizations. Had it been S. Cornelius there, not assassinated, he might have assured amalgamations just as Hadrian assured the end of Roman expansionism (well, Julian the Apostate died expanding the Eastern borders once again)
In any event, if, as B, Cornelius constructs them, S.Cornelius life and death would then be watershed events consistent with the rapid expansion, and also the risks to “early birds” of Christianity. Had he been as constructed, and survived, rather big “if’s” even in fiction, A Cornelii as bishop would provide a much more experienced, distinguished, “old boy”, imperially connected and personally reputed, militarily savvy kind of leadership. A lateral entry from the top. Those advantages could ever be expected from non elite recruits. At some point that kind of sophisticated leadership, politically astute, would be necessary for a growing institution further to expand, enjoy efficiencies. Gibbon would argue that the East never enjoyed “efficiencies”, that Greek Byzantium destroyed itself. Imperial Rome also fell, but even if to the barbarian Goths and their ilk, its ideas of greatness, and its Christianity became theirs, thus a bit later, the Holy Roman Empire, the Middle Ages under the sway of the Roman Church, and Western development as we all learn it in school. And now, as those descendent kinsmen of S. Cornelius, we have all inherited its rich basket of civilization, and the bits and pieces of that that define our individual situations.
One is lazy historically to account for Christian expansion by invoking some term such as “need” or “God wished it” Christianity, its multiples, “happened” but it (they) did not “just happen”. Ask the best of bishops. He is always dealing with problems, is conscious of his duties Eucharistic (if it is celebrated), liturgical, (if defined) pastoral, (if performed) moral, financial, political, educational. There are real people being and becoming Christian, for all one assumes God is paramount in the mind as well as in creed, confession. But what they do by way of choosing and being religious is enlarged beyond beliefs. There are practicalities to it, other satisfactions. Yes there is appeal, practical and idealistic, of joy in love, with earthly reward in a better society relationships, and a longer one in the intense hope for salvation and after life. A leader will know about the practical. An evangelical leader to succeed cannot be insensitive to the range of human interests and needs. He is selling a faith. One dare not err to rely only on encomiums about God, love and the hopeful hereafter. This is, after all, also a God of consignments to eternal hell, Yahweh mindful, as Paul said, “vengeful”. (Not without utility in arousing fear, in much learning theory reward is coupled with punishment in the design of persuasive strategies.). This God was, (is) a mover. Like him a competent Christian leader must understand power, be a person with i convictions, energy, managerial competence, and, if so charged, strategies by which to move, convert, those near and then far away. The most effective ideas come already suited to soils ready, capable of being made ready, for planting .
A man like Cornelius, trained to govern efficiently, would know all this, bring it to the faith, later to become a church. His power, wealth, status, skills, connections, education, would be ever so welcome in the assembly And with them he believed. In his faith, those more lowly in life would be reinforced. He could be trusted. Well, trusted until his first “problematic commentaries were delivered. He asked his assembly to think differently Even if it was sensible politics as a means to protect their vulnerable situation, and advance their faith, people find that difficult. As with the Jews and Jesus, as with Ignatius and his own assembly, so it was with Cornelius. Whether those shocked by him, or already differing in creed, killed him, is not clear. That “talk in the garden’ shows the range of possible assassins. In a sense, all of his ideas, whether viewed by Romans or Christians or pagans, were new. That places any leader in a dangerous situation.
A constructed or pseudo biography of Cornelius, who was, we propose and without evidence, the first in a sequence of men rather like him, constructs itself from among the finite array of real possibilities available. The task is reasonable choice and, for the sake of reader and Christianity, to see how human he must have been, as with us all complex, sensible, foolish, contradictory, appealing, sometimes not so appealing, a person. Not then just what was to be historically “a man like Cornelius” but a man we can recognize, admittedly less readily because- not his fault- the writer’s decision to use archaic language forms, refer repeatedly to Greek and Roman people, places, ideas which most moderns will not be familiar. The idea was to ground the picture of what was then solidly as scanty fact allows. fact
Uncertainty as to elements of faith: The most difficult task in reconstructing this bishop was to presume his particular religious beliefs. If those of him time and place, they would be in flux, much in debate, by no means set as creed. (and later, when set as creed, much controverted, giving rise to much heresy, multiple churches, separating denominations, even unto conversion to the Mohammed) A religious man, but newly come to that, and blessedly sufficient in the rare direct, mystical experience, for this bishop, doctrine would hardly be his forte, likely, as with modern Evangelicals, formalities not quite his personal interest, as opposed to his self-imposed institutional duty. He appreciated Ignatius’ plea for unity, would stick to such basics as were identifiable in that fluid, debated, divisive, heavily apocryphal time. Augustine himself, while later becoming ‘basic”, in his time rather strayed from the conventional. Expect differences: From 4th Century theologian, Gregory of Nazianus “To be only slightly in error (about doctrine) was to be orthodox” (cited by Pelikan, 2003)
For a Cornelii Roman steeped in Aristotle and the Stoics, that some, indeed more and more of what was being storied about, some of which he could watch being written and promulgated, was quite wildly irrational. For him, as we have read,, the historicity of Jesus become Christ, the moral excellence, the wisdom of Jesus with his followers, the advocacy of the simplicity of the Cynics, the overwhelming fact of his own inundation with, in God, were these not miracles enough? “Orthodoxy’ was not then even defined. As noted, there was no cannon, no New Testament as such, albeit as we have it with Timothy, some of it was being generated as apocryphal, and some, we argue, under current rewriting. When there was the “orthodox”, it would be defined by as much protest, or excoriation (read Eusebius as a master) as accession. The ever more wildly irrational might excite the Syrian mob’s attention, but their credulity would be no recommendation to a serious man. (See particularly, Akenson, Mack, Fox) B. Cornelius would follow Apollo’s dictum, and the rhetor’s advantage, moderation when he could. Biographers with permeable boundaries with their subject, such as is the condition of the two Cornelii, do identify, do presume is are hardly coincidental. Let us trust there is sufficient art in the creation of Cornelius, the human.
If the reader accept the foregoing, he or she will allow the possibility that there is not entirely fiction, and may be some of the probable in the reconstructing of the person in that situation , It is, of course, all based on the premise that this first Cornelius bishop was his loyal descendent kinsman assumed (along with that genealogy) Were that not so, no one will every know but by counter argument, there was, we postulate, nevertheless a man or men like Cornelius one day to lead, many like him earlier to fail and yet later others to succeed in that difficult path. As noted, tt would be centuries before the aristocracy flocked to the faith (See Salzman, The Making of a Christian Aristocracy ,2002, also, MacMullen, Changes in the Roman Empire 2002) . Those quite comfortable in their privileged place will be cautious to leave, indeed as we learn, they left one comfort for another, with faith likely as much new badge as conviction. But in conceiving Cornelius, the man, there is more than a physical anthropologist modeling a face from the remains of the dead, for r a writer in his role as artist has duty of pleasing his reader. As writer, creativity at the hand of the Muse compels the imagination Likewise, the same writer, honoring scholarship, and himself an elsewhere professor, requires himself to offer some instruction in history. There is no intent, none, one emphasizes to advocate any denominational posture. Cornelius, by careful definition, had none, for he lived, there was no church, not even that word itself, nor Church, nor denomination recognizable today. The Road to Nicaea was a long one, many diverging ways, and even upon arriving, change after (See Lonergin, 1976, Pelikan, 2003, and all of the histories of Christianity, heresies, available, many cited in the Bibliography.)
Emphasized: It was not then as it is today. There was rapid change. S.Cornelius personifies the thrust of that. Relying on Stark, The Rise of Christianity (1996) whose estimates are compatible with most scholars, but Gibbon contrary and Fox cautionary, there would have been some thousands (if Stark, then about 15,00 of Christians in the whole of an Empire of 60 million. Only a few small assemblies (ekklesia) were spread across mostly Hellenic cities. There was certainly, Stark quotes the archaeologist Snyder, no Christian “culture” That changed. Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (1987) is cited to the effect Christianity was the “most rapidly growing” religion in the Mediterranean, so that by Constantine’s victory, extrapolating there would be about 9 million in what the Romans called “Asia”, and Syria with its Palestine. Frend (The Rise of Christianity,1984) suggests these could have approached a majority in the regions first governed by Constantine in his new capitol, Constantinople in what we now call Turkey in Asia Minor. (Frend estimates fewer Christians overall than Stark. ) This region was primarily Hellenic, for Ionions came to that eastern coast before 600 BC, (Paul’s cities were inhabited by descendent Greeks, no doubt mixed with the many other ethnic strains, but Greek was the educated language, and as such continued until Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453) See Vasiliev’s two volume history (1961), and, compulsory reading, Gibbon) Not Greek: the Hebrews in Antich and to the south. The Hebrew, and Greek thought, constituted a fertile and much earlier prepared religious receptive soil.
The Other world then:
The supernatural: That immortals were flitting about everywhere is consequential (some are now our angels, cherubs, Satan et al) The preternatural world was the history of the time, the context for Christianity. All but a few accepted the reality of unseen, intentional, relating forces. There might be atheists respecting the “mono’ in theist, but few denied the gods. The fact and fancy of this figures large in the Antiochean world presented. .
The context of the Greek imagination is in the fore, for any not serious Greek scientists, logicians, philosophers were profoundly aware of the “exotika”, those animated spirits of inhabiting, personifying, rising from, flitting about in water, air, rivers, springs, caves and the like. These creatures, common to any Mediterranean culture but documented then and recently for Greece, (See Blum and Blum, The Dangerous Hour) which is the land of beautiful imagination made into enduring art and story, were the fabric of the supernatural on to which Christianity was embroidered, all due credit to the Hebrews , the rest of the Near and Middle East for its origins before the looms of the neo Platonic Christian writers began to hum. One is not to be shocked that S. Cornelius or his Helen granted other spirits abounding beyond the Jesus one as Lord, for the dominant gods were Greek (translated into thinner Roman images)
Lest we condemn these as myth and superstition, look about nowadays to find the Devil, cherubim, angels and archangels, Church approved exorcists, ghosts in English houses, abstractions not quite so abstract when felt as ‘presence” such as “evil” , local epiphanies of saints and Mary, (think Lourdes), and writers for whom the “muse” is as good an explanation of any for the creative. The world about us is alive with forces, “attribution theory” in psychology watches us find causes, names, and some magic or other attempting cajoling or control, and so, let us be grateful to the Greeks for the artistry of their depictions which we may still enjoy. Our own age, mechanical, electronic, seemingly self-sufficient, “rational” (hardly) has lost that artistry as imagination, attribution, story earlier known to everyman. The popular imagination has downgraded its vitality to gross superstitions about almost-immortality via health foods.
A Sacred Killing? Students of religion not as history but as interpretive anthropology, functional sociology, or the roots of religion as such, a have devoted their attention to “sacred violence”, Hamerton-Kelley’s 1992 book title. (See also Burkert, Girard, Smith, Mack with Hamerton-Kelley, 1987, Eliade, 1959, Frazier, 1890, 1959) Hamerton-Kelley, categorizes the two basic, schools, one powerfully religious (wherein he analysis St. Paul’s work and where ”the sacred” preexists, is independent of but deeply within humans, in contrast to a view of religion, attending to its violence, as functionally adaptive, channeling, sublimating, civilizing, controlling what Freud would call ‘the id”, our animal urges untamed. For the latter agnostic scholars ritual killing as cultural phenomena with compelling society-saving psychosocio dynamics. In either group may be found sweeping, even romantic, or Jungian, propositions
So be it, the central fact of sacrifice at the heart of religious belief and ritual cannot be denied.
Consider as examples the Mass itself, or Guatemalan Indian Catholicism where the slaughter of chickens is ritual sacrifice. One notes that some criminologists, pursuing this same vein, see the modern publicized murder trial as having a compelling ritual, deep psychosocial function, one beyond public vengeance, presumed deterrence, and media- obvious entertainment. Ideas of the sacrificial victim as “the goat”, “pharmacos” in early Athens, or the crime-charged as Jesus, as a black lynched for rape, multiples of these examples, show that the two categories, “criminal” as feared and estranged, and the magical or holy may even merge.
The crucifixion is our formative, central Christian symbol/event, whereas Abraham is argued a founder of three religions. He is Abraham of the demanded sacrifice, that pervasive felt, or commanded duty, to the gods. Martyrdom is one of its forms. In this Book we find the historical Ignatius seeing his own martyrdom in this light of preparatory, emulating, meaningful sacrifice, as did, one presumes, many martyrs to the imperial roman appetite for security. (One might be reminded of Stalin who killed millions for what they might be thinking)
S.Cornelius allowed himself to be murdered. No introspection of his tells us whether this was an intended Jesus emulation- with Balthus possibly as his Judas, or but consonant with his final renunciation of violence as the strict Christian ethic required. That was the grand Roman way to die, that gladiatorial death with an appreciative audience, seems undoubted. The reader may speculate on other less noble possibilities, if for example, it was Balthus or some other known parishioner, an angrier S.Cornelius exacted vengeance in the act of it—one garden voice implies hell as the fate of the entire congregation. Was S. Cornelius really thinking, “kill me and you burn in Hell forever whilst I watch from Heaven”? . Indeed allowing oneself murdered is an acceptable “invited para-suicide” should one consider the extreme, psychological proposition that a depressed, disappointed or disgusted S. Cornelius came to view his situation as no longer worth his effort, himself doomed to failure? Or indeed, since Balthus and Joseph appear as the only reporters presenting descriptions and notes, the probing reader of murder mysteries may venture a conspiracy theory whereby the Bishop’s death (and the new hand of his note) was not at all as presented, but more compellingly, murder by intimates. His Book disallows but conjecture
The most likely popular accounting, one consistent with historical Christian belief, or allegory, is that in being killed at his altar while bishop, S.Cornelius became historically, thus legendarily, part of the sacred trail of sacrificial blood, Christian and mankind’s . (It can also be a political legend, think Zapata, or a religio-political imperative, cf., the Jewish War or Muslim suicide bombers.). It is that meaning which B. Cornelius attaches, for it is the most powerful interpretation within the Christian or larger profound ritual context. Note well, that includes Greek tragedy. With reference to that great art of the Greeks, consider Iphigenia. It is not inconsequential, as one sees precedent for the Christ story, that in one version, the Hesiodic Catalogue, Iphigenia following her sacrifice, that demanded by one vengeful goddess, herself becomes divine. Similar elements do not imply untruths but, rather, larger truths, as for example, in recurring themes in the religious narrative, one find’s humankind exercising its terrible nature, that yet allowing goodness, self -sacrifice and potential salvation
As to Ignatius: a defense of an informed art of historical imagination. B. Cornelius entirely constructs S. Cornelius, but he also ventures considerably as to Ignatius, the man.
B. Cornelius discounts established biographical “fact” respecting the Saint, although his letters extant might make him appear a solid bet, we say, “perhaps not so.” Or at least, not enough. Consider the respected clerical scholars Roberts and Donaldson writing and presenting Ignatius, Vol I ,The Ante Nicene Fathers, (1884) They state “almost nothing is known” Be that the case, the literary fiction of an attentive pseudo biographer who creates the journal of Ignatius, and allows recorded his dialogue with his deacon, Luke, will be outrageously revisionist –which we argue fiction is, in any event, allowed- in rejecting hagiographic convention, some censoring piety, which would impose an only “saintly” monothesis. It may, by some, be considered blasphemous to create a flawed, suffering ,courageous Ignatius whose rush to death is made more understandable be allowing him an anguished self. We see him as a complex, driven, neurotic man. In being this he is more honestly human than an hagiography allows. The flawed Ignatius suggests a possibility respecting saints, to the effect that, however beatified, the man or woman of them is not a Kosher sausage entirely ecclesiastically processed.
The Ignatius who visited S.Cornelius in this Book is dynamically complex, in his anguish and partial triumph, sympathetic, but as a person by no means entirely attractive. That characterization follows from . is the response of many to the saintly letters attributed to him. When in his Ephesians Ignatius tells us of wounds implying all his could not be healed, when he asks all to “stand like a beaten anvil”, and say “it is the part of a good athlete to be bruised and to prevail “, that bruising is allowed a clinical statement as well as adage, When saying a man is “not his own master” a psychobiographer confessing his fiction, does have grounds for speculating there may be a diagnosable Ignatius, not untroubled When, his most famous contribution to the future Church, he orders that the distance between a mere plebian in the assembly and Ignatius, Bishop, is the same as between that bishop and God, For those who recall the humble fellowship of Jesus, the authoritarian, egotistic stance is shocking, but prodromal, anticipating egotists and despots in the Church to come. No matter, in the beginning and for survival, S. Cornelius, entirely Roman, agreed with that need for structure.
Virginia Corwin’s Yale Divinity Monograph (1960) is a masterful study of what Ignatius contributed to, fought about, could not resolve from among the diverse threads of what became later Christian doctrine. Her interest is aroused, as is that of a biographer B. Cornelius partly because “the years between 80 to 150 have been singularly inaccessible” B. Cornelius, the writer exploits that tabula rasa. Its blankness is his invitation.
Corwin’s study is in the context of a dispute as to whether Ignatius was or was not a Gnostic, a movement about which Elaine Pagels has done much to bring to the general publics’ attention, (a strain of Christianity which, in emphasizing spirit and not flesh, became Docetism, later Albigensian and now, renouncing even the reality of our own flesh, Christian Scientist. There are many variations still with us. (See Stoyanov for a thorough exegeis) The emphasis that Corwin places on the divided Church, the opposition within, Ignatius’ disappointment if not much worse arising from that, allows B. Cornelius to create a character consonant with data and psychodynamics, but not claimed “true” at all. One meets not a boring churchman but a poignant personality where faith and person are, as psychologically must always be the case for those intense, intertwined.
As to the person of Ignatius , about whom Corwin is careful in her inference, she yet characterizes his “pitiless …self-revelation,” sees a sense of both “failure and authority”, “anxiety over the church” , “delight in martyrdom” contrasted with the “unsteadiness of his own courage” Here, even when studied as but an early Father, he is obviously in some anguish. The psychobiographer moving beyond the historical clinician which Erik Erikson was, e.g. on Luther, to expresses a personal and, for his pain, sympathetic reaction to the human being inferable from his letters. Men were described from the outside in those days, as with Plutarch, but with the same brain and sensitivities of modern humans, we must assume unrevealed psychodynamics. In accounting for Ignatius, that he is a bit paranoid should not be surprising, given his inferred vision of himself as being a second Christ. There is some grandiosity in that.. But, one keeps in mind he did have many enemies, some of whom close to him, by his own suspicious account and the very situation of his assembly in a suspicious world. B. Cornelius likes his saints better when they are granted their personal pain and imperfections.
Respecting the events, including time of Ignatius death, B. Cornelius opts for a his own view, that quite possibly erroneous, but then such records of the time there are, are likely that. If one holds that all accounts of the time are reliable, face honestly the nature of the contemporary, ‘objective”, that is current historians’ debates, Jesus, and that most critical of events, resurrection. Consider all of the elaborations, revelations, possible revisions in oral history that followed to become one or another version, doctrinal or scholarly, of Christianity. Or quite different versions among Muslims. No ground has been greater tilled by scholars than this, yet most Christians tilling it grant certain assumptions as given. So too with Ignatius of whom, recounting him, even the most careful scholar must say only, “probably” (e.g. Koenigsberger in the 1965 Brittanica, vol. 11, p 270
S. Cornelius, the key assumption: Cornelius is documented as bishop, 128. It is his name that allows the possibility of his dramatic novelty and importance. The Centurion Cornelius named in the Bible (Acts, Peter) was, we propose, a likely later insertion to bolster the case that the more Judaic Peter also attracted gentiles, thus was equal in evangelizing perspicacity of his unquestionably gentile-oriented rival Paul. By the end of the first Century, it would have been obvious to any one editing the stories of the church, that it as not the Jews but the gentiles who were to be the Christian body. A an early Peter partisan, advocating as text editor or writer, would want his man to look good. This centurion’s story makes him a shill.. The indigenous Syrian-Palestinian nature of centurions, quite likely then auxiliaries as was Balthus, described as converting is argued by Sherwin-White, (Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament, Oxford 1963, Baker 1991) Their Cornelii name would be apocryphal. Adopting a famous name, those false apostolic flags flown on redacted NT texts for example, followed a practice quite common. It is also the case that freed slaves took on the name of their manumitting owner. That it may be the case that not even an Italian centurion—and do keep in mind their various ranks- was known Christian by 128, how remarkable is S. Cornelius. One adds, if true.
Foreshadowing Constantine: Grant that for the Christian movement to be embraced by imperial Rome, by Constantine, allow that there were forerunners among the ruling class, more idiosyncratic because what they did was unusual, and possibly dangerous. It is that individuality about the early Christian leadership which is of biographical and literary interest, for ‘deviants” , in being different, , will not have ordinary backgrounds, personalities, and, if early becoming revolutionaries - whether in art or politics- they are messengers, path-finders, sometimes heroes and geniuses, sometimes terrible knaves. The consequences of their lives determines who, if anyone, writes their histories, and how they will be judged. That implies the need for caution in our own evaluations of early leaders of movements, beliefs, other cultural innovations by which we have been influenced. Most of us are not dispassionate judges of Christianity. This story of, a man like Cornelius intends to depict, embody, humanize the conditions, experiences, motives which, among its Roman elite leaders, are sufficient, in the life of S. Cornelius, to account for his choice, thus to have powered the success of Christianity. God’s direct, situational, moment to moment intervention, is not required. It would seem hard to deny, but for a subpopulation of the crass, credible, or conforming, that a God-experience, that miraculous conception, the stories which define it, an appraisal of the consequences for belief in society around one, and the readiness of minds to be religious, to reach out toward its most satisfactory formulation, become a prime “cause.”
Our Cornelius enacted a new Roman vision, moral, personal, spiritual which foreshadowed the development- “revolution” of you prefer- of a Christian Rome. That may be dated to Constantine the Great’s military victory over rivals in 312 with its emblematic story of the flaming cross in the sky, or 313 when tolerance for Christians was decreed, or 324 when Christianity became the state religion. One notes the emperor himself was not baptized until near his death, Our Cornelius as forerunner, assuming many later “men like Cornelius” over, the succeeding years who were required as leaders to set the stage for Constantine’s conversion and Christianizing decrees. Constantine, in turn, was the initial instrument for the Empire now both Roman and Christian.
Institutional religion as psychological advantage: Religious experience as institutionally shaped, thus teaching, membership, institutional stability, appears to optimize psychological processes conducive to good health, thus confers advantages in daily life and, presumably, longevity. (Koenig, 2007). For those interested in variables not ordinarily cited historically, as for example Diamond (1997) on the role of disease in history, one is allowed speculation on an heretofore not considered health variable. Christianity not only provided caring for the ill, which should have reduced mortality rates by assuring at least rest and nutrition for illnesses capable of recovery, but in providing social support it will have reduced morbidity and mortality risk. Risk reduction would also be achieved by any sense of stability, predictability, assurances as to the future gained from being a joined Christian (as indeed occurs today with risk reduction among practicing religionists, just as with married persons) The relationship between morbidity risk reduction and living in a predictably stable environment is demonstrated. For a review of this literature see Blum and Heinrichs, (1987) It is reasonable to expect that early Christians would have been less ill, in less pain, and much more at emotional ease than their demographic counterpart peers. Christians might well characterize this as their God-blessing, observers would see it as a further reason for conversion, a pragmatic reason to join. As James said, it was held true because it worked. A clever bishop, makng the same observation, might well conclude that God, in inhabiting it, loves the flesh and the spirit, prefers and bestows on in the deserving believer, good health. A military S. Cornelius, knowing more casualties from sickness than wounds in those days, would have applauded an healthy, even if non combatant, army.
Observable by the fact of membership in a supportive group are social support, intimacy, confidence, social stimulation, and such like. One may speculate, there is no evidence, that participation in music, dance might also be “good for you.” If at the same time, as was the case with early Christianity, increased opportunity for basic needs such illness care, food, warmth were also provided, one retrospectively accounts for attractiveness and thus expansion. Since demographics appear to operate in all stratified societies as risk factors, with greater wealth and power associated with access to essentials, and as power, increased control and implied environmental stability, it would seem obvious that becoming Christian conferred the greater relative advantage on those of lower status and wealth than on upper classes. When the advantages of “stability ” is transferred conceptually to the religious sphere, one sees in “tradition” that function (See Watson, J, 1993, review and commentary on di Beradino 1992,, White, 1993, Hamman, 1993, Rowell, undated)
In the first and second centuries, CE, one can see the functions of Empire, as “civilization: with the presumption of increased production and better distribution of food production, expanded opportunity for income, as well as general protection as political and social stability including law, and again stability as a condition allowing tradition, none of which require explanation as advantage. However differential recruitment to Christianity requires attention to other socio-cultural-economic factors, whether cultures as milieus for interpretive intellectual-spiritual religions as opposed to simpler ritual magic practices or, again, those economic factors which in a time of widespread disease placed the poor at a nutritional, unprotected environmental greater risk. One assumes the advantages of a more caring Christianity were obvious to those more in need.
Felt control is a psychological as well as empirical variable, and by no means was it the case that “control” over lives and environments was prevalent enough anywhere in the Empire to assured the absence of chronic anxiety. One quite common human effort then for the illusion of through magical practices ranging from divination to ritual, (see Butler,1949, Frazier, 1923, Graf 1997, Loewe and Blacker. 1981, Mannhart 1936, Seligman 1948, Wulf 1991 including such propitiation, avoidance etc subsumed under “superstition”. (Martin,2004 The observer’s category for magic and superstition may or may not include aspects of religion, or become categories of the psychodiagnostic, anthropological, mythical or romantic. That literature is too vast, and for the most part irrelevant to this Cornelius to require notice here, but to observe that the realities of life at that time massively predisposed to loss, pain, insecurity, despair. These would motivate anyone at all flexible, resourceful, with opportunity to shift to any safer, happier group promising relief. We see in the growth of Christianity this appeal in spite of adverse costs, whether martyrdom or other punishments or, socially derogation, isolation, etc. The content of an institution, here not simply early but as we see from Koenig, current, , which has at least a partial basis in psychological, physical relief, thus, conversely, health and happiness, is not explained thereby. It by no means suggests a restrictive view of appeals and functions at other levels, whether institutional and social satisfactions, aesthetics, intellectual-philosophical, moral, whether mystical and “irrational”, spirituality or as “compelling truth”, the latter at whatever levels taught, believed or comprehended, and applicable to any religious system, or indeed possibly, immersing political ones.
Since S. Cornelius had no “cause” for conversion at levels related to subsistence, personal safety or ordinary sodality, one attributes his development into the Christian as much more idiosyncratic, a statistical fact, where, as we have seen—and common to social pioneers-he suffered social and personal costs defined in terms of normative elite expectations, thus his “loyalty” more than suspect. That he would seek at some psychodynamic level to reduce those costs, the ‘dissonance” of his position, by reducing the separateness of the two groups, Christian and Roman elite, is entirely normal. Its genius was in its evident moral, aesthetic,(see, for example, Dillenberger 1986 ) spiritual and mystical value, for Cornelius a profound set of truths, but ones portending the later political synthesis which Constantine realized and, insofar as one ignores Gibbon, set in motion.
What followed: That Constantine’s-and those following- rule and attempts at doctrinal synthesis could not generate harmony or assure continuity is evident. Byzantium collapsed, but then all empires, as dominant political entities do. What was politically Rome also fell, and much cruder “dark ages”, albeit Catholic, emerged. A successful Mohammed’s bequest replaced most of the Byzantine Empire, and in the West, and indeed, near and central Asian Christianity as well. Even so, Christianity expanded and continued, Latin America, Africa, unifying or oppressive, a continuing fractious and critical history of Christianity is written by moderns. It remains, however, whether or not one attends to numbers of church-attending adherents- more in the U.S. than Europe, proportionately- the religion of the West, confession, symbols, stories, values, pervasive.
Pervasive, fragmented, rising, falling, so it has been and continues. Religious ideological and cultural conflict over time is hardly attributable to any failed vision on S.Cornelius part, nor to Constantine or his successors The human brain and the polities it generates are, for we are group animals, becomes when thought and expression, “mind”. Mind perceives, integrates, generates, and in group process, becomes shared, and differing, beliefs which become institutions. As structures of tradition, and self-interest, yet offering gratifications, more meanings, these unify, also repel, perpetuate and dominate. Religions as adaptive as well as gratifying systems, function as satisfying social experiences, and would, may claim to, provide spiritual, moral, social and personal solutions. Insofar as power is exercised, they are political.
They also change, are unstable. Intellects insist on thinking, examining, creating, and diverging. We have inventive brains. Passions are not easily lashed to particular altars and ikons. Humans are, biologically, “irritable” and exploring animals. Some are urged to discontent , solutions, even, perfecting, which Origen saw as never complete, even when in Heaven. One essence of biological evolution is DNA mutation, some of which become new and workable forms. Nature too is in flux, just as our environments as we change them, move to new ones, or constantly contribute, or subtract, from culture, the edifices of civilization. Religions will change inevitably, as then, will affirmations and negations, definitions of, relations to, promulgated functions for deity.
Civilization has its “discontents”, to use Freud’s term, as do each of us. Some might hold that modern times might at last bring contentment to all, thus justifying universal optimism, either about what God has wrought and granted, or proving humans can do it themselves, without either a God reality or at least, allowing it “unproven” God-awareness and its respectful, aesthetic and value-anchoring correlates. The latter implies deity of some sort conceived nevertheless in mind. “Spiritual” does that loosely for some. Some critical intellects will insist on complete negation, (see, currently,2008, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Daniel Dennet) and may elevate replacement potencies in man and his progress.* Other less-negating critics focus on current institutional failures to meet spiritual needs, e.g.(Episcopal, Spong, 1998, and, sociological, Bellah et al, 1985) iparadox in the simultaneous intellectual agreement on the “death” of God (See, among many works, Wilson, writes a more encompassing and literate recent history of evidence in literature, poetry, of the slow death of God (God’s Funeral, 1999) Today’s scientists (and probably yesteryear’s) are less often than others to be repositories of a “God-sense”, albeit not at all dismissive of wonder, the marvelous in nature. We must not be a-historical, time-isolated. It Such disputes are not only modern. We met them in Cornelius, and find them in antithetical positions espoused in ancient Greece.
Optimism about man and the potentials for progress arising from mind and its liberty, at least arises from the Enlightenment, are found in Romanticism, and are fed, and for some proven, by the success of democracy, by technical invention and its wide application, high expectations for and, in the West capabilities- for the provision of necessities, ever-expanding varieties of stimulation, advances in health and the reduction of pain, better insured socio-political stability including a democratic rise in power-sharing, enforced egalitarian consensual rule of law, and with wide communication, presumed wider moral consensus with as assumed practical impact. With great industries devoted to them, one includes as well; leisure and entertainment and, paradoxically; escape, primitivization ,c.f drug abuse, pornography, violence, passive consumerism, committed ignorance, and solitary, self-controlled, quasi social interaction, .elected leisure internet communication and games.
Whether our current condition, whether progress or deity negation, is predictive is not for B. Cornelius to venture. One does observe in Europe reduced institutional religious affiliations, whereas in the U.S. the religious attitude prevails in the great majority, albeit those in liberal faiths hardly attending. The “moderate Protestant and Roman churches are losing membership, the fundamentalist, evangelical –including diversely provisioning mega churches are expanding in the US. Whether a view that modernity will displace God convictions, particularly when modernity’s risks may yet be realized in potential calamities of nuclear war, new and untreatable, mutating zoonotic or other pathogens, water and resource shortages, global warming, asteroid hail, etc., is not forecast here. We do know that S.Cornelius’ optimism, consuming God –awareness and dedication, idealistic “civilizing” convictions, occurred at a time when there was quite a different spiritual-cultural cast to the domains of hope, personal fulfillment ,the social good, and what the best sources of these might be. Even so, the author as biographer proposes sympathetic correspondence between the lives and views of S. Cornelius, as well as those about him contrarily skeptical, and those of our own era. As with Professor Pelikan on creeds and confessions, grounded in the same brain but with some remarkably different content to it, we represent continuity as well as change.
Life writing now: Biography itself is nowadays rarely psychodynamic or attuned to probabilities of personality function derived from experiment. That is, for art but not necessarily exegesis, understanding, a good thing. The development of pseudobiography expanded, as art, or perhaps art–in-history, beginning with Romanticism’s allowance in art of emotion and the personal in portrayal, (See Clark, The Romantic Rebellion, 1973 now attending to fictional internalities, as early found in James Joyce’s free introspection, while at the same time the parallel Jamesian “stream of consciousness” occupied literature and some autobiography. It is not surprising that Henry James brother was William James, arguably the founder of American psychology. Freud, hardly a “romantic” was likewise a genius observing, and inferring about, the inner human, linking hidden interiors to evident exterior conduct. Freud lectured in New England during Jame’s time, and whilst not embraced intellectually by Wm Jame, Freud had a profound influence over how artists might better view the complexity of lives. Psychoanalysis is no longer popular clinically, but its theme of probing, allowing for childhood-based psychodynamic developments, the dynamic structure of personality, the paramount irrational, is inescapable. As we learn more about behavior, and that knowledge moves into the circles of writers, other intellects, insights as to the how, and some of the “why” of behavior expand. Literature, if it does not give in to computational or stereotypical models of man benefits. An informed and imaginative art sensitive to history emerges beautiful in a portrayal by imagined letters written; The Memoirs of Hadrian, by the French Academician, Marguerite Yourcenor. You have met Hadrian in S. Cornelius life, and know as history how the Pythia of Daphne’s Apollo , here portrayed as Helen, forecast, and may have formed by her influence, Hadrian’s life. This weaving between fact and fantasy is by no means only the fictional biographer’s. The historical biographer will assume psychodynamics, invent terms that fit his character who, so shaped, is reformed, re-presented in the work that emerges. There will be judgment, and pervasive, a point of view.
In its development, life writing continues to allow literary art as fiction and inference as to person, selected and configured illustrative events to reenter “ true” autobiography, biography” so as to illuminate “essences”. John Gardner’s Chaucer is brilliantly one such. Nor dare one overlook, if there is protest over departure from “truth” as sought in carefully documented history by admired modern historical biographers, that the best of documented biography by fine biographers will, in that point of view of theirs, ,yield quite different characterization of the person, or given the person posited, reinterpretation of what a “fact” was. Recent works on President John Adams, a B. Cornelius kinsman, show that dramatically. Or read Solzhenitsyn’s Lenin vs. a dutiful Soviet biographer. One by no means claims that serious biography should not be as faithful to fact. We do claim that fact and fiction be allowed to merge in speculative, artistic psychobiography when no other data is at hand, and when the speculative thesis allows proposals for historical themes and possible personal development which are, at the same time as provocative, instructive and entertaining, and indeed, worthy of the art of it.
In any form or product of life writing there will be “shaping” from the intent, attitudes, thus the personality, including aspects unconscious, of the author. Memory too is a process itself shaped by experience, rather than some hard and fast “objective” neural synaptic permanently engraved hippocampal record. There are few such. B. Cornelius’ ancestral focus, elaborates on this range, from a Plutarchian admiration, a scholarly basis in historical “facts”, inference about person based on documents extant- here Ignatius, and Cornelius as they might have been, as creatures molded by his time and place, also possible psychodynamics allowing projections as to his conversion and purposes, these powerful in his milieu, and adding that Jungian hint of not “racial” but an enduring “family unconscious” . In this the preternatural is allowed, to ignore it would have been to deny the mind’s spirit-populated environment in Cornelius time. Without the preternatural, how could S. Cornelius have any confidence that his letters to a future kinsman, B. Cornelius it turns out, would be delivered? But consider; insofar as modern, serious biographers “identify” with their subject, come to believe they know their subject best, then interpersonal boundaries are blurred, guiding assumptions are made, psychodynamics of biographer and subject intertwine, all of this quite “natural” and, unless one but copies earlier scripts, unavoidable.. The life writer takes his confidence not simply from documents, histories, biographers before him, the insights and daring of Freud or Erikson, confidence also and his pride in his careful labors, but, these aside, he is identifying with his own conceptions, thus creation, a permeable boundary indeed. Allow any of us to follow Vico’s dictum that we know men better because of our own nature. Insofar then we learn, study, conceive and create, here “reconstruct” Cornelius, we are “Vicoan”.
Allow then, that at least “a man like Cornelius”, the first blood Roman leader for that Christianity which the Emperor Constantine later decreed was Rome’s faith. For S. Cornelius, however the timing and geography were quite wrong for any great immediate accomplishment, but, perhaps, for his attributed powerful understandings of Rome and the fertility of its ground, thus a insider’s pragmatic insights respecting discontent even in the elite which need be recruited for growth, insight too into how Christianity’s success in and for Romans would require, short of military conquests impossible, its Roman-style organization and diffusion in the elite=held state apparatus. At the same time, mass appeal in the Eastern Empire would take advantage of that Greek ground, as much folkloric and philosophical, as much marvel-ready and miracle story-prone as politically experienced. The ground in Rome and the provinces was entirely unready, untilled in 128, but it was S. Cornelius genius, thus his immediate class and spiritual kinsmen afterward, who were evangelically astute.
Being didactic, and the whisper: Balthus’ reverts to whispering in several chapters, that marked by smaller print, and in the presentation of material which the reader is likely to find dull. Even so, whether exegesis of Balthus own beliefs, which mirror the pagan times come mixing with ideas becoming Christian, or in Balthus’ presentation of the Cornelii over time, as seen in brief lives of some of its members, these as examples of Roman lives and personality, thus by example and, or risk, the heritage as “blood” of S. Cornelius. B. Cornelius joins Balthus in believing the reader should have this material available . This is, admittedly, a didactic approach to fictional biography, one which does not cater to the reader’s easy pleasure. The reader who perseveres through the small print – and the larger, will know more of those generative, turbulent times.
That Greek ground: Christianity as it expanded in the second Century was attractive to the Greeks as gentiles, mot leaving its Hebrew roots but soon ceasing to be a Judaic branch. It was an aspect of Paul’s genius that he evangelized, prospected in the Greek cities of Asia Minor, for that was where readiness was (See Ramsey 1907, 1979) Cornelius whose personal center was Italy, rightly saw Rome’s need but wrongly conceived it taking an initial strong hold there. The fact of it is that Christianity held greatest sway, much earlier becoming ,being the religion of the majority in Asia Minor (Roman “Asia”) and Greece. Constantine, who had moved the capitol of Empire to strategic Byzantium, for the whole of Empire suffered divided rule and considerable contest for it, was fully aware that he was moving his here uncontested capitol into Greco-Christian territory. Its political-military and religious geography showed him to be a wise man.
That Roman Catholic church today has its greatest practicing faithful numbers in Africa and the Americas, but its institutional development was in Greek Asia Minor, (not Hebrew Palestine, for the faithful Jews rejected its heresy) It was there that Eastern Orthodoxy took early form, with Byzantium eventually separating entirely from Rome. Kung (1994) has this culminating in 1054. That was preceded by numerous doctrinal and political schisms, irreparable according to Frend (1984) after the 6th century. The work of scholars shows the history of diffusion, schism, and with the Muslim conquest, retreat of Christianity as a regional phenomena influenced by migrations, level of culture, politics, personality and the like. “Readiness” , like ‘need” are terms used after the fact, but in describing the obvious, the early Christian religious activity in Antioch, which was Greek and otherwise pagan, Roman ruled allows its description of a sub population of the city to be “ready”, as was Cornelius himself. As we see from the travels and letters of Paul, and the later establishment of Constantinople, initial ‘readiness” , whatever its components, was a Greek phenomena.
Again, Constantine but not a Cornelius: Whether one wishes to date as his critical Christian move, his own conversion, or his proclamation of the faith as the Empire’s religion, is the historian’s choice. His motives remain a bit enigmatic, forhe appears simultaneously worshipful of Sol, the sun god, a “barbarian” cult the Romans instituted. Earlier Greeks had no such cult, their scientists recognized the star as molten fire.. Constantine was not baptized until near his death. no biographer of Constantine (See Grant, 1993) is likely to claim the powerful moral, spiritual, and mystical elements that one has posited to account for the religious and thus career radicalization of S. Cornelius. The assumption is that the uniqueness of his conversion, given his background and status, required much more extreme forces, including those psychodynamic, as has been proposed as an alienating childhood, than later conversions where social norms, expectations did not raise the specter of betrayal of one’s class. There is some historical doubt as to Constantine’s degree of faith as opposed to good sense. A man already emperor requires no courage to embrace an already prevailing doctrine, nor to admit to any unique superstitions when seeing, or having been described as seeing, a cross in the sky. And, as noted, he was conscious of the religiously receptive Greek ground where his new capitol was founded. Constantine was no eccentric, he was a practical achiever. S. Cornelius then was far more radical a person, “deviant” one might say, than Constantine.
For the conversion of S. Cornelius one needs attribute to him a depth of moral and spiritual character, a capacity for realizing dismay, moral outrage, social compassion, the recognition of spiritual longing and the experience of spiritual discovery, in his instance overwhelming mystical experience as we believe sensibly characterizes the personality allowing or compelling the idiosyncratic of the sort that Wm James, (1902,) and most religious in considering the mystical, characterize quite positively A noble Roman, that “man like Cornelius” was indeed remarkable and eccentric to become Christian, and with that, the acceptance of the conscientious burdens in becoming a church leader, quite likely—if as our story has it, but not assassinated- the most important of his time, in what would have become a fierce disagreement over the proper relationship of this otherwise provincial religion to Rome, and thus argument about tendence to the state gods of Rome, thus martyrdom. S. Cornelius, had he lived, might yet have been later assassinated for his position, more of those “problematic commentaries.’ That would have been less likely had Hadrian, becoming more like Cornelius in appraising, calculating, the Roman condition, insured his armed protection. A state religion earlier come-by? Debate the fixed as opposed to probable constrains on that historically impossible, given different actors.
Disclaiming: We disengage in the debate provoked above. On the whole, however we suggest Constantine as a realized S. Cornelius, is that this Cornelius, as conceived, would have brought Christianity to Rome any faster than did occur, even had he not himself become that “most unwilling martyr”. (And dismissing Hadrian seeing flaming crosses in the sky) After 128 many martyrs were God’s exemplars, thus are credited with enhancing the wonder of Christianity, offering visible drama of the God-passion, their living-and dying-faith in eternal life. For all the reasons made evident (and some likely ones not brought to the fore here*) Christianity was that ever widening, swift sweeping river of faith. . The hostile policies of later Rome proved at least pointless, and perhaps counter-productive. Christianity advanced absent Cornelius’ entirely foreign, at the time subversive, doctrine of collaboration. (See Balsdon, 1979, Friend, 1984, Green, 1970, MacMullen, 1966, 1984, Meeks, 2002, Ramsey 1979 (the 1892 lectures). Stark, 1996, Wilken, 1984 ) S.Cornelius paid the price many pioneers do, one which he consciously risked on behalf of his vision. And whoever Bishop Cornelius might have been, the person of him, failed records assure he paid the price of anonymity as well.
Unfoldings, but not Polybius: Polybius wondered at the rapidity with which the Roman Republic became its initial empire in 53 years beginning 220 BC. beyond Polybius Rome maximized its frontiers under Trajan, thus 117 AD, over a period of 377 years. Christianity to Constantine, if we measure it to Nicaea, 325, (and placing Jesus evangelism at about 25-30 AD gives roughly 300 years. Christianity moved with Constantine, but beyond that, for it expanded well beyond the Empire, even quite early, to lands never Roman,e.g. India, Parthia China, for which, first, “a man like St Thomas” and later then the Nestorians, are credited (See Moffet 1992)
What is also not claimed is that B. Cornelius’s “compilation” is intended an history as such . As S. Cornelius took a position, as did Luke, Balthus and Helen as well, so the novel reflects what humans feel and do. We allow ourselves uncertainty, but we see here that both Cornelii are men of opinion. B’s opinion has the great advantage of scholarly work done by others, only a bit of his own, thus providing some perspective but by no means is his intent “truths” These are., out side the framework of faith, in any event uncertain, and , for all the scholarship extant, not easily arrived at as contemporary scholarly, or denominational agreement. Nonsense and fiction are, though, not invisible, nor would we have them be.
B. Cornelius is indebted to Patricia Cox’s work, Biography in Late Antiquity, (1983). edited by the most excellent Peter Brown. Her work on the genre of the biography of the holy man provides a splendid point of view of biographical history in the period following S.Cornelius,. Hear her describe those works:. “ a play between fact and fantasy”, “imagined history” “a free-and mischievous-play with mythic discourse” She quotes Plutarch, “the gods speak to man in poetic circumlocution” or Plotinus, “human speech about the divine world must always carry with it a metaphoric “so to speak’” and, lastly, her citation of Plotinus referring to the wisdom of the Delphic oracle which in our instance B. Cornelius, that historical, familial, literary pseudopsychobiographer, will use in accounting for the intuited product,
“We knew ourselves that he was like this”.
Myth and Mythus:
When lives are told beyond such summaries as obituaries present, when religion is lived as passionate in faith- not simply the texts of them of them in libraries- these become stories when they are written and told. They become something in themselves, resounding in us, made true by the telling so understood and agreeable; the listeners nodding, “yes, we knew it to be so all along.” We can be deeply moved by stories, for points of our lives and faiths correspond. Some stories, more literate and imaginative, grip families or whole peoples, becoming centers of meaning and means of accounting the “how” and “why” and “must” of them. Pride, duty, sometimes greatness are implicit.
Myths are like this, or if more lightly told and acknowledged as allegories, they may be called “ fables”. Some call the Christ stories the central myth of western civilization. Doing so by no means denies importance, but it does offer a reinterpretation. The truth is moved away from history to the profoundly human, our spirit, our art and creative minds. It ceases to be what for creed-faithful Christians is the essential actual historicity of the Christ moment in time, that later formed and said in creeds, the first formalized in council being the Nicaean. (325). Instead the myth is, according to r the OED (Vol VI, 1933 ed, p 819)” is “purely fictional” albeit it may be seeded by persons, or events real or so believed. If fictional but allowed depth, or romanticized, one allows some myths to be aspects, or indeed truths about a culture, thus when Christian, still portraying truth a Moses, Abraham and Jesus derived people. Jesus as a man need not be doubted, but the elaborations of his story, his Godhead, the Resurrection, then the new place of Mary, the Trinity entering, then such as saints, forms of liturgy, confessions, are placed in the context of a continuing culture of evolving greater gods, and their several compacts with their peoples. These then may still contain messages of hope, guilt and error forgiven, of life possible after death, of spirits and their forms, their impact on this world, and the morality and sometimes tricks and magic, working, when lessons are given, to allow better lives, as well as, possibly to please or control the supernatural. As story, myth may also be powerful message and a portents-bearing, destiny-choice providing, form of entertainment. If “myth” then, God has given neither Himself, nor Son nor Spirit but these arise out of the art and need and creative, attributing tradition, of man. The myth of such great and glorious matters may yet understand and portray us, and in it we may portray beauty and longings, themselves truths. The level of these truths can be debated, “racially transmitted” as with Jung, (these days implied, within our very DNA) or, some will say, acknowledging much by way of historical elaborations, yet after all stories given us by gods, or God, and so essences of truth about them, or him, as well as our best relationships thereto. Not argued at this moment, but beyond the OED the mysterious; that God has given the creativity to make such myths containing truths.
Some will insist that what S. Cornelius came to believe was a myth, or better if one wishes to accord myths something more than fiction, the direct Latin as English “mythus” The latter, see the OED,p 820, Vol VI 1933 ed. in usage allows venerability, (Coleridge), awe, (Carlyle), the blending of truth and the (story) vehicle of its telling, (Trench), and faith and conscience, (Thackery) . If so, it was and is a mighty myth and mythus, and gripping, for on it were and are founded lives, cities, empires. Historians of culture will find it the centering spirit of our civilization, however qualified as earlier Greco-Roman, Hebrew and now also of the Enlightenment and technological. But good and bad, there is the song and beauty of its art and people, and as faith’s institution labeled and enacted, religion, Christianity, in its people powers our disasters as well. Think on the destruction of the Albigenses the Children’s’ Crusade, the Inquisition, think of all, and it is daily, righteous or ignorant unkindness in the name of God. Or in the conviction the other fellow’s is the wrong “God”.
Some might contend that the story of a man like Cornelius offers no realistic historical or human lessons, rather is but one more story merging with the mightier stream of Christian myth or, allowing the mysterious and art as essence, mythus. Yet some will know that Cornelius’, or Balthus” ,the others writing or written about here, whatever their natures, are understandable, admirable, forgiven as well, because we are like that. Our Cornelius then, of little record at all and forgotten, and now in story resurrected, would tell us of truths in lives and faiths, loves and works, of doubts or disbeliefs, and, yes, exploitation, greed, cruelty, emptiness and, perhaps, betrayals..
We are, most of us, ready to honor the truths of others, and to respect guiding myths- even if only these, or so some argue-when they counsel goodness, create wonder. If “mythus”, we accord our neighbor respect for the depths of his stories and beliefs, grant him and her the worth of acknowledging that which is greater, awesome, exhilarating. If but stories, honor to them and their creators, tellers, believers for knowing stories so splendid they guide to safer, fuller life paths; stories are of gratitude to Jesus, even if he were only mortal. If we allow mystery and grace, as do the billion or so Christians in this world, then we move from appreciation to miracle, and in doing so, here historically, to better understand those faithful who believed, and, as conceived here, S. Cornelius.
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