This tale of historical fiction arises out of a way to use art – literature – as the introduction to my PhD project with the Taos Institute and Tilburg University (Humanities). The use of story is intended to offer some context to a very old Christian debate, which occurred between two church leaders in the 4th century CE: Pelagius and Augustine. Central to the tension was whether or not the human species should be seen through the lens of Original Blessings or Original Sin.
The intention of the story is not to convince or sway the reader that one perspective was or is right. Rather, the use of fiction will hopefully allow the reader an opportunity to better appreciate a different time during the Christian church’s history. It is by hearing a story that we might begin to imagine how Then was, in order to explore generative ways to better understand our Now …
Revised with Final Version: November 26/2015
The Rock burned – it wasn’t supposed to. The dream for which we’d all longed, for which so many had been martyred, seemed tangible, touchable, and attainable. And now, it’s fallen. Perhaps that’s too dramatic, but there it is, nonetheless.
You might be wondering – depending how long it is from now when you are reading this: what’s the Rock? For some, it’s simply Roma – once the seat of the Pax Romana. A city where the once pagan Empire expanded into a world of violence and disarray and offered a semblance of stability – of order. But for those of us who have inherited the teachings of Jesus and continue to learn from those who endured The Way, the Rock is so much more. Hopefully, as this diary unfolds, that will become clear: simply know that the Rock – the place where Peter brought the Gospel – was supposed to mark the culmination of such a long journey.
The Rock blazed and since then we have been scrambling – trying – to understand the meaning. Is it to also be our fate to be once again exiled as happened after Jerusalem was torched? From that came such change. So many of us left the synagogue to follow the One, the Way, the Christ … but wasn’t that supposed to be the beginning of the New World? Wasn’t Revelation the map that brought us– finally – to the Kingdom? Well, it’s gone now and I can see it in his eyes. As he writes his City of God, there’s a light gone, and the Sin about which he has constantly warned us presses upon us from every corner. The Serpent is in our midst!
I have so many thoughts – they’re varied and scattered – and I am not even sure why I am writing this. At one time, I might have been allowed to write a biography – when women like Lydia and Phoebe helped Paul build the church. But it seems like that moment – when gender was not a barrier – has come and gone like so much else. When did it all change?
I know that there have been debates and arguments. Oh, such arguments! I wonder if Jesus would have approved of how rhetoric seems to have replaced parable? I wonder what he would think of the rights and wrongs we have embraced. I wonder if I am simply romanticising a church that seems to be slipping away. Perhaps, which never really was?
I also realise that I’m penning these words as my own lament. I’ve wrestled with trying to understand fully the musings, thoughts, and theology of the Bishop. In moments, he seems to be open to our – women’s – ideas and then it’s gone. All too often the promise of equality becomes tempered.
At one moment we are almost equals, and then he sees the Fall, the Serpent entwine the Rock, and everything crumbles. It’s been like that since we all fled Roma: it’s been that way since we arrived in Hippo. Sometimes I wonder to which Bishop I am speaking: the inspired or the fearful one? I also wonder for which Kingdom does he long – Roma or the Promised One?
Am I getting ahead of myself? I have read, re-read, even asked Miriam to take a moment to edit – in between her own work with numbers – to see if this is the right way to record this moment. Because – trust me – this moment will change everything. Perhaps not the moment – exactly – but the completion of the City will set a course – I believe – that will reach well beyond the Bishop’s own intention. If I do not speak now, then I am lost to the Call to which I, myself, have responded.
Sin, the Garden, the Fall, and the Rock, as far as I am concerned, were explored in debates that I had wished would lead to agreement, not defeat for one idea, and the idolatry – yes, I use that word most intentionally – of another. It’s already begun: if we are all inherently sinful – even though Grace exists – then I fear what that means for us. What does a church built upon human brokenness mean when it tries to understand the Christos as one who loves all, not because of piety or privilege, but as fellow children of God?
If only the Monk had softened, if only the Bishop had listened … and I guess that is the story I will share with you … I pray you will hear a tale that was grounded in creativity and dialogue, but which ultimately failed to help people reach a mutually acceptable way of seeing our human relation to our Loving Father. Perhaps you will begin to imagine new ways to continue a conversation that will eventually need to be explored once more – for all of our sakes …
As I continue to tell this tale, one in which two ideas of what it means to be human competed without the possibility of compromise, it feels important that you know something about us, our time, and the way we write. I do not know if this will survive the years, but it is our tradition when we speak or write to try to convince and to sway: not those with whom we are in debate, but those who are listening or reading. Whether a treatise or history, poetry or myth, there is always a sense of competition in which one must convince or withdraw. Some might call this invective, but rhetoric has been what has served the Empire.
Another thing that feels important to share is that the church, the one from which I write and the one found in those first letters of Paul is … the same, yet different? We are no longer pursued, executed, or ridiculed. Even more important to note is that there are few, if any, who are called to martyrdom. The irony is that we now occupy the seats of authority that were once used to shackle and torture those of The Way.
I know that some have claimed the Monk was a martyr, but I do not want to get ahead of myself. I guess what you may need to know is that the church of my life today, though hearkening back to the first, is rooted in a very different context. As such, it seems difficult – at times – to reconcile the two.
I have consulted with Miriam, before proceeding, and I have decided to try to do this differently. I know I am not objective, especially after the barbarians violated the Rock. I will, nonetheless, try to present the Monk and the Bishop as dispassionately as I can. If you are to learn what you need, whenever you are reading this, it seems necessary to try to describe our time with you, while attempting to remain impartial. A goal that I am not completely certain is attainable, should I be honest with both myself and you.
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