"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
The Real One (Part 4)
can-on Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin, from Latin, ruler, rule, model, standard, from Greek kanOn
1 a : a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council b : a provision of canon law
2 : sometimes, worth dying for
Flavius was tired, his sandals hurt, and he needed to sharpen his sword again before tomorrow.
He laid down his heavy shield, and made sure the hundred soldiers under his command (now only 72) were properly set to work preparing for tomorrow's battle. Seven years he had been serving with Constantine, and with any luck tomorrow would settle the dispute with Maxentius once and for all and he could get some rest.
Service under Constantine was good. Sure it was hard, a soldier's life was always hard, particularly for a grizzled veteran of 32 like Flavius. He could show two scars for every year of his life and have a score unclaimed. But Constantine allowed Christians such as himself to worship freely, something Diocletian before him, and Maxentius for that matter, didn't do.
Constantine was not a Christian, of course, worshipping Apollo instead. He was a product of his culture. But he was a good man, brave and true, and Flavius was honored to serve under him.
Blades sharpened, he lay with his head against a rock, as he did every night, and fell into the deep sleep that only comes to men who have faced death more times than they can remember.
The herald shook him, careful that Flavius didn't strike out at him in the darkness. "Centurion, awaken, the Emperor is to see you."
"What is it? What time is it?"
"It is the mid of the night, the second watch. it will be several hours yet until the dawn." The herald headed onto the next century of soldiers to awaken their centurion. Flavius rubbed the sleep from his eyes and went to the Emperor's tent.
Soon, they were all gathered. Hardened veterans to a man, each one had many years of service to Constantine and would gladly die for him at a moments notice. No one grumbled about being awakened.
Constantine walked from his tent, standing proud and noble, even in the darkness. "I had a vision, tonight, at sunset," he said quietly.
Not a word was muttered. Constantine was not a man who joked about such things. If he said he had a vision, then he had a vision.
"Tomorrow we will face a superior army, with superior weapons, fighting on their home field. We are outmanned ten soldiers to every one. They have more swords and more horses than we can hope to field. And they hold a strategic position, easily defended."
The centurions waited, they all knew this already.
"I have been given a sign and a command. I was told 'by this sign, you will conquer.' You are to place this sign on the shield of each soldier by sunrise, and we will take the day."
Constantine reached down, took a small stick, and drew a symbol in the dirt. It was a combination of the Greek letters Chi and Ro, meaning "Christ."
"Go see that this is done, and victory will be ours."
The next day dawned cool and foggy as October days usually do. The armies lined up in neat phalanxes and headed towards each other like waves crashing together on the sea. Each shield in Constantine's army had the symbol of Christ and the words "by this sign you will conquer" painted on it.
Soon, Constantine's army was winning the day, and Maxentius' army began to retreat. However, there was only one course of retreat, and Maxentius' army ended up bottlenecked at a bridge, where Flavius' men picked them off by the hundreds. When a boat bridge that many of Maxentius' soldiers were using collapsed, it trapped hundreds of men on the north side of the river with no hope of escape.
Their military precision compromised by the rout, Maxentius' men died by the hundreds. Maxentius died in the melee as well.
Rome belonged to Constantine.
Earlier, the emperor Diocletian had set up a tetrarchy, or a rule by four separate Ceasars. Now there were only two, Constantine and Licinius. Constantine didn't like Licinius at all, but found it politically expedient to give his sister Constantia to him to wed, cementing their relationship.
The cement lasted ten years.
When Licinius tried to gain control of all Rome, both Ceasars sent armies to the field to settle the matter. After having his forces beated badly once, Licinius ordered his men to paint the sign of Christ on their shield. It didn't help, the battle was lost quickly and with great loss of life. Constantine initially spared Licinius' life, but when he was caught scheming yet again, he dissapeared under suspicious circumstances.
Constantine was now the sole and unopposed ruler of all of the Roman empire. With his temporal power settled, he decided it was time to turn his eye to the religious sector. And when he did, he found that there were huge divisions in the church, one of which was on the nature of Christ himself. He resolved to gather the bishops together at Nicea, and work out a solid doctrine.
Nicholas picked a dandelion from the side of the road as they walked. "You see, Christodoulos, the gospel is like this dandelion." Nicholas blew, and seeds scattered to the wind, drifting out over the fields. "Each place one lands, a dandelion may grow. But it's important to make sure that each seed knows that it is a dandelion, what a dandelion is, how a dandelion grows and flowers. Otherwise, there will be no more dandelions."
They walked along in silence for a bit as Bishop Nicholas allowed time for the lesson to sink in to his young priest. Nicholas had aged a lot since the persecutions. His hair, once jet black, was now completely silver gray. His beard was full and gray as well. But for a man his age, Nicholas was still strong and spry.
"I see," Christodoulos said. "You are saying that, just like all dandelions are dandelions, all Christians must have a set of core beliefs, as we have been saying."
"Yes," said Nicholas. "Which is why the Arians are so dangerous, and why we go to Nicea."
The Arians were a sect that had sprung up in Alexandria a few years before, and as far as Nicholas was concerned they were the single greatest threat to Christianity. They declared that Christ was not divine, that the Holy Spirit was only a symbol, a figure of speech. And this heresy had gained converts, who would be at the council.
The Bishop fumed inside at the very thought of it.
Constantine himself called the assembly to order in the great hall, his clear voice echoing as he addressed the 300 bishops in attendance from all over the empire. The first order of business was to be the Arian controversy, and Arias of Alexandria himself was going to press the case.
Flavius stood guard at the entrance, dressed in his finest war armor. He had asked especially for the duty at this assembly, because he wanted to hear what was said. In the group of seated bishops listening to Arias, he could make out Bishop Nicholas, the one who had led him to his conversion to Christianity. Afterwards, he would like to speak with him again.
Arias, as he spoke, was becoming more forceful and more adamant. "God neither begets, nor is begotten. The son is inferior to God. He is not divine, but a creature, created by God not one with God. He is not like the Father, is not equal in dignity, and is not eternal. The logos that John speaks of is only a figure of speech, it really means just Reason."
Flavius could see Bishop Nicholas fidgeting in his seat. At times it appeared that his priest was holding him down, whispering to him.
Christodoulos placed his hand on the Bishop's shoulder. "Father," he whispered, "please do not stand and make a scene, these things must be done in order."
The bishop's face was bright red with rage, and finally he could contain himself no longer. He stood, almost taking Christodoulos with him.
Arias stopped speaking, and looked at him, shocked at this interruption. The rest of the room was dead silent, knowing that disruption of the council, in front of the Emperor, was a serious offense.
Nicholas began making his way to the front.
Flavius saw the commotion before it ever happened but there was not a thing he could have done about it. He headed for the dias, hand on his sword, but he knew he was too late already.
Bishop Nicholas might as well have been completely alone with Arias. He walked directly up to him, gray beard swinging, gray hair blowing every which way. He stopped two feet from his face.
"Heretic!" Nicholas shouted.
He swung, and slapped Arias with a resounding "Thwack" in the face.
The force of the blow threw Arias backwards, and as the sound of the slap echoed he fell onto the stone floor in a sitting position with a solid "whump." Which also echoed.
No one breathed. To strike a man in the emperor's presence was death.
Christodoulos watched this in dismay. The Roman centurion took the Bishop away as the Archbishops divested him of his title and took his vestiments from him. The emperor spared his life, but allowed the other bishops to order that he be chained and imprisoned for the remainder of the council.
Even so, Christodoulos noted, it appeared that many of the bishops in fact agreed with Nicholas.
The next morning, when Christodoulos went to the prison at daybreak, he was startled. In the cell, he saw the Bishop sitting, in his vestiments, reading Scriptures, with his chains laying unshackled beside him!
"What has happened here?"
"Our Lord Jesus appeared to me last night. He asked me why I was imprisoned. I replied 'Because of my love for you.' He then gave me the Scriptures, and my garments so that I would be dressed in proper dignity of my office. So, this is how the jailer found me this morning."
Christodoulos was dumbstruck, but Bishop Nicholas seemed at peace.
When the jailer reported this to Constantine, he reinstated all of the offices that had been taken from Nicholas and released him immediately.
The council ruled Arianism as a heresy, and produced the Nicean Creed, which we still use today.
Our story, of course, has yet one more chapter to go.
I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Live,
who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.
--The Nicene Creed